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John Marshall and the Constitution of a Nation

May 22, 2019

May 22, 2019
By Timothy Sandefur

In the latest issue of The Objective Standard, I take a look at the life and work of Chief Justice John Marshall, who spent his 34 years on the U.S. Supreme Court defending the Constitution’s most important innovation: the principle lawyers call “dual sovereignty.” That’s the idea that the federal government doesn’t depend on the state governments, but instead that both systems of government are supreme within their own realms of power. It’s what makes the United States a single nation for some things, and 50 separate states for other things—and it’s the reason why states aren’t allowed to secede from the union. During his time on the Supreme Court, Marshall unwaveringly defended this idea against those who argued that the Constitution was more like a treaty that states could ignore at will. For all his shortcomings—and there were some big ones—Marshall’s defense of the federal union was an essential basis for American nationhood, and his legal decisions deserve to be regarded alongside The Federalist as among the founding documents of the United States.

Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.



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