The 1801 Judiciary Act for kids: Midnight Judges - The 'Lame Duck' Congress
Thomas Jefferson was voted as the next President in November 1800, but would not assume office until March in the following year. This enabled President Adams to get things done before the new president and his political party took over. The two men were from opposing political parties. Adams was a Federalist and Jefferson a Democrat-Republican. During the time between the end of the old presidency and the start of the new, the 'Lame Duck' Congress took the opportunity to pass the Judiciary Act of 1801 to give Adams the power to appoint new judges. This ensured additional Federalists would be in powerful positions in the new government.
Purpose of the 1801 Judiciary Act: Midnight Judges
The act significantly enlarged the national judiciary, and Adams seized the opportunity to appoint his Federalist friends and supporters to the new offices. These men could be depended upon to protect Federalist legislation from the rising Democratic-Republicans.
Why Midnight Judges?
The judges who were appointed to these new courts were called "Midnight Judges" by the Republicans because they were last minute appointments. President John Adams was alleged to have stayed up until midnight on March 3, 1801 completing the paperwork before his term in office ended the following day on March 4, 1801.
The 1801 Judiciary Act: William Marbury
President John Adams appointed 16 Federalist circuit judges and 42 Federalist justices. One of the "Midnight Judges" was William Marbury, who was named as Justice of the Peace for the District of Columbia.
1801 Judiciary Act: Midnight Judges - President Jefferson refuses to appoint the 'Midnight Judges
Thomas Jefferson and the Republicans were furious about the passing of the 1801 Judiciary Act. President Jefferson refused to allow the 'Midnight Judges' to take office (including William Marbury). Jefferson instructed his Secretary of State, James Madison, not to deliver the "commission," or notices, of appointment.
1801 Judiciary Act: Midnight Judges - William Marbury Sues (Writ of Mandamus)
William Marbury sues the government (on the behalf of several other judges) and demanded that the Court issue a 'Writ of Mandamus'. This writ is "writ of mandate" which orders a public agency or governmental body to perform an act required by law when it has refused to do so. This was a power given by the Judiciary Act of 1789. William Marbury believed that this action would force President Jefferson to accept these appointments.