Roger B. Taney was a 26 year old attorney practicing law in Maryland when the seminal case of Marbury v. Madison was decided on February 24th, 1803. The case involved a man who was given an appointment as a judge by the administration of President John Adams and then denied that appointment by the incoming President Thomas Jefferson. While ruling that the Supreme Court did not have any authority to enforce the appointment, Chief Justice John Marshall established that the Supreme Court did have the authority to determine the Constitutionality of any law Congress passes, making the Supreme Court a very, very powerful group of men.
However, while Taney was Chief Justice in 1861 he ruled in Ex Parte Merryman that the actions of the Lincoln Administration, in suspending the Habeas Corpus right of John Merryman was unconstitutional, as only Congress had that power. Merryman had been arrested by Federal soldiers and held without being charged, having bail, or seeing an judge. Taney, acting on his own as Chief Justice, ordered Merryman released, and issued an opinion about its unconstitutionality.
However, President Lincoln blithely ignored Taney’s ruling, and continued to suspend the rights of suspected Southern sympathizers. Although past Chief Justice John Marshall had created the most powerful court in the land to interpret the constitution, current Chief Taney had absolutely no power to enforce that interpretation.
Lincoln later defended his actions to Congress in a Special Session on July 4, 1861 saying that an insurrection “in nearly one-third of the States had subverted the whole of the laws … Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?”