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I have always had the impression that Marbury v. Madison gave the United States Supreme court its first jolt of power. However, I recently learned more about the political circumstances surrounding the case and am now confused.

Here is how Wikipedia sets the stage:

Marbury v. Madison also created a difficult political dilemma for Marshall and the rest of the Supreme Court. If the Court ruled in favor of Marbury and issued a writ of mandamus ordering Madison to deliver the commission, Jefferson and Madison would probably have simply ignored the order, which would have made the Court look impotent and emphasized the "shakiness" of the judiciary. On the other hand, a plain and simple ruling against Marbury would have given Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans a clear political victory.

Marshall avoided both problems and solved the dilemma.

But Jefferson disagreed with Chief Justice Marshall's decision anyway. In a letter to James Madison, Jefferson writes:

John Marshall’s twistifications in the case of Marbury ... shew how dexterously he can reconcile law to his personal biasses.

This is where I'm confused. The timeline seems to run like this:

  1. The court is so weak that Jefferson would ignore any ruling against him.

  2. The court, essentially, rules against Jefferson indirectly by giving itself the power of judicial review.

  3. ???

  4. The court has the undisputed power of judicial review.

What happened at step 3? Why was the court's decision respected? If Jefferson was in the habit of ignoring rulings, and congress was on his side, why didn't they just ignore it? Eventually someone had to force everyone to go along with it. Who did the forcing? How did they do it?

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    Without making this question more suitable for LawSE, and I'm asking to clarify your understanding, are you thinking: "Why would anyone respect a Judicial Review?" -- the very precedent established in Marbury vs Madison? Whether Madison/POTUS would have acted on the mandamus is not the issue (altho' you seem to believe it is important). In a word, I'm confused why you're confused. – J Asia Dec 28 '19 at 21:06
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    @JAsia I'm glad that we're all confused. I think that your summary is right, but let me try again to be sure: That Jefferson intended to defy any issued mandamus shows that he and congress were more powerful than the court. So, when Marshall declared that parts of the Judiciary Act were unconstitutional, why didn't Jefferson and congress just say, "No they aren't," especially if Jefferson preferred a weak court? I assume that something forced Jefferson and congress to respect this "power grab" by the court. – rwbogl Dec 28 '19 at 21:45
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    I think I see your point now. First, a provisional answer ... to ignore decision of Marbury vs Madision, Jefferson would be usurping role and power of congress, not his own office. Second, to go beyond my limited knowledge on this, and for more background, I might have to read J.R. Pole's The Federalist and J.F. Simon's What Kind of Nation. This might take a while. – J Asia Dec 29 '19 at 6:42

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