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George Washington may have been the Father of Our Country but his friend John Marshall defined for the new nation what it meant to be united and to live under the rule of law Confirmed as the fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1801 Marshall inherited a bench which had yet to make its voice clear It was considered by many to be a paper tiger unable to enforce what rulings it issued and unclear as to its role in the new government Throughout his 34-year term as the nations highest magistrate Marshall not only gave the court this voice but positioned the judicial branch as a non-partisan member in the tripartite of American checks and balances In so doing he did more than just establish the institution the writer and legal scholar Anthony Lewis tells LIFE but he established the national government If America was to be ruled by law and not by monarchs the military or the whim of states then the constitution argued Marshall must be the supreme law The Marshall courts first major decision came amidst partisan bickering between Thomas Jeffersons Republicans and John Adamss Federalists In the case of Marbury v Madison--the Court was being asked essentially to sanction the Judiciary Act of 1789 an act of Congress--Marshall drew a line in the sand It is a proposition too plain to be contested read Marshall from his courts unanimous opinion that the constitution controls any legislative act repugnant to it No matter that the representatives sitting in Congress spoke for their states when the Judiciary Act was passed To allow any legislation to wield more power than justice itself reduces to nothing what we have deemed the greatest improvement on political institutions said Marshall --a written constitution Marshalls decision did have its detractors at the time but the court had spoken with one clear voice The Supreme Courts power of judicial review first used in Marbury is
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