Most people think that the country was founded with the system we now have, where the Supreme Court had the ultimate authority to decide what was Constitutional and what wasn't. That is not the case. That power was taken for the Court in a rather ingenious move by Justice Marshall in the Marbury v. Madison case, which was a political decision as much as anything. It could be argued that this is akin to allowing Bush and Cheney to decide the scope of power of the Executive branch. You basically have the branch of government in question (the Supreme Court in Marbury) deciding whether or not it has the power that was in dispute. No great surprise how it comes out. Here are some quotes by Madison and Jefferson on the subject. These predate the Court's power grab: "As the courts are generally the last in making the decision [on laws], it results to them, by refusing or not refusing to execute a law, to stamp it with its final character. This makes the Judiciary department paramount in fact to the Legislature, which was never intended, and can never be proper." James Madison, Oct. 15, 1788. "To consider the [Supreme Court] judges the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. They have, with others, the same passions for party, for power and . . . privilege. Their power is the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal." Thomas Jefferson, Letter to William Jarvis, Sept. 28, 1820 (emphasis added). "The opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what are not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but the legislature and executive also in their spheres, would make the judiciary a despotic branch.." Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Abigail Adams, Sept. 11, 1804. "The germ of dissolution of our federal government is in . . . the federal judiciary; an irresponsible body (for impeachment is merely a scare-crow) working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the States." Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Mr. Hammond, 1821. So I thought I'd post this as an academic question. What do the rest of you think about this, both from practical points of view and in theory? And if one branch of government can just decide it has to power to do something, what is to prevent the others (and in fact the answer to that is 'nothing,' which has been demonstrated in our history).