Page 791 Annotated Constitution of the Commonwealth.
THE INTERPRETERS OF THE CONSTITUTION.—The Constitution, like every other law, is directly binding on every individual and every governmental agency within the Commonwealth. Every person, every officer, every political organ, has the duty of complying with its provisions and must in the exercise of that duty interpret its provisions, in the first instance, to the best of his ability and on his own responsibility. Every citizen is entitled to the protection of the Constitution and is bound not to infringe it; every officer and department of every Government—State or Federal—has similar rights and obligations; and the Federal Parliament and the State Parliaments alike are bound not to exceed the authority conferred or reserved by the Constitution. But the provisions of the Constitution may, wittingly or unwittingly, be transgressed; rights arising under it may be denied; obligations may be evaded. Every person under these circumstances has recourse to the appropriate courts to defend his own rights and to enforce the obligations of others; and thus, without any express provision, the courts of the States, and the Federal Courts, whenever they have jurisdiction over a case, have the duty of interpreting the Constitution so far as it affects the rights of the parties. From the Supreme Courts of the States, as well as from inferior federal courts, an appeal lies to the High Court, whose decisions are “final and conclusive,” unless special leave to appeal to the Privy Council is obtained either from the Privy Council or from the High Court itself, as the case may be. It may therefore be said that every court of competent jurisdiction is an interpreter of the Constitution; and that the High Court — subject to exceptional review by the Privy Council—is the authoritative and final interpreter of the Constitution.
In the exercise of the duty of interpretation and adjudication not only the High Court, but every court of competent jurisdiction, has the right to declare that a law of the Commonwealth or of a State is void by reason of transgressing the Constitution. This is a duty cast upon the courts by the very nature of the judicial function. The Federal Parliament and the State Parliaments are not sovereign bodies; they are legislatures with limited powers, and any law which they attempt to pass in excess of those powers is no law at all it is simply a nullity, entitled to no obedience. The question whether those powers have in any instance been exceeded is, when it arises in a case between parties, a purely judicial question, on which the courts must pronounce. This doctrine was settled in the United States in 1803 by the great case of Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, where it was held that the authority given by the Judiciary Act to the Supreme Court of the United States, to issue writs of mandamus to public officers, was not warranted by the Constitution.