I have never been good at writing poetry.  I don’t have the wit to write metaphysical poetry like Donne.  I could never capture the sylvan landscape like Frost.

What I am good at is doodling.  For as long as I have been in school, I have doodled in the margins of my notebooks.  Abstract drawings—individual shapes formed around one another to create a larger piece.  No meaning, just absentminded curves and lines.

It wasn’t until law school that I moved away from the abstract, meaningless scribbling of my youth.  During some particularly tedious hours in class, I would take the case we were working on and trace out one or two words per line and attempt to form them into coherent thoughts and phrases.

Here is the result of Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803)* as found in Paul Brest’s Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking: Cases and Materials, 5th Edition.  I would recommend listening to “Worlock” by Skinny Puppy when reading it because the way he sings a stream-of-consciousness series of phrases is how I always imagine these poems sound when I form them.

[Procedural History]

December moved
Commanding justice
(Motion following late)

Appointed/consented
Signedsealedstated
Delivered (not complied)

REQUEST MADE!
REMEDY!  INQUIRY DEMANDED!

[Reasoning]

Emphatic obloquy behooves investigation
Redress political withholding

Executive Misconduct
Duty rejected

Official Immunity discussed
Rejected

Legality examinable
Rules applying difficult

Invested powers exercised
Discretion entrusted

QUESTIONED!

Specific duty assigned
Vested rights
Appointment determined
Power intended – Judicial supreme
Tribunals without liberty declared
Form without substance

[Issue]

The Questionan act repugnant
Becomes the law of the land?

Principles established
American fabric fundamental
Permanent
Limited/Unlimited distinction
Imposed obligation contestedcontrolled
No middle ground
Paramount and unchangeable; invalid

[Holding]

Principle confirmed.
Law repugnant void.

Discharged

* Marbury is a landmark case in American legal history.  Marbury was elected as a justice of the peace by outgoing President John Adams.  In order to take up his post, he had to receive his commission.  Due to how many so-called “Midnight Judges” were appointed, it was impossible to get all the commissions delivered.  Marbury did not receive his commission before the new president, Thomas Jefferson, took office.  Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, did not want Marbury and other justices of the peace to take office because they were staunch Federalists who opposed Jefferson’s policies.

The new Secretary of State, James Madison, did not deliver the remaining commissions.  In his opinion, the commissions had not been delivered in time and were therefore void.  Marbury sued Madison in order to receive his commission.  The court found that Marbury was entitled to his commission; however, the Supreme Court lacked the authority to force the Executive Branch to give Marbury his commission.

This case helped establish the boundaries between the Executive and Judicial Branches, firmly reinforcing the notion of Separation of Powers.

Paul Menn

Paul (’10) lives in Grand Rapids with his wife, Emma (’10), and cat, HandsomeMarcoCat. He loves board games, Babylon 5, and honey-curry chicken. Everything else is negotiable.

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