What Was Marbury v. Madison? Who Were Roe & Wade?


What was Marbury v. Madison?
M. v. M. was Chief Justice John Marshall's 1803 ruling that the Court had the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional.

Marbury was William Marbury, whom outgoing President John Adams appointed justice of the peace in Washington, DC, as part of the Federalists' attempt to maintain a presence as Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans swept into power. Madison was James Madison, the new Secretary of State, who, with Jefferson, refused to follow through with Marbury's appointment.

Marbury took his claim to office directly to the Supreme Court. Marshall, realizing the Court stood to lose if it backed either Marbury or Jefferson, found a third way. He argued that the Constitution did not give the Supreme Court power to hear cases except on appeal from a lower court. And so, Marshall reasoned, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was unconstitutional, because it gave the Court power to hear cases the first time.

Who were Roe and Wade?

Since the 1973 decision, reached by a 7-2 majority of the Court, recognizing a woman's right to an abortion, the names Roe and Wade have gone together like a horse and carriage, salt and pepper, and Martin and Lewis.

Roe v. Wade overturned two state laws: a Texas law that prohibited abortion, except to save a woman's life; and a Georgia law that permitted hospital-performed abortions to protect a woman's health, provided they were approved by a hospital committee.

Roe was the plaintiff in the case. Jane Roe (rhymes with Doe), a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, was a single, pregnant woman in Dallas County, Texas. She used the pseudonym to keep the facts of her pregnancy from the Court.

Wade was Henry Wade, the district attorney in Dallas County, Texas. As he was responsible for enforcing the Texas law, Wade was named defendant when Roe/McCorvey's attorneys challenged the state's abortion law. Wade had previously made a name for himself by prosecuting Jack Ruby, who killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Wade died in 2001.

David Holzel is a freelance writer who writes the ezine The Jewish Angle.