mandamus (măndāˈməs) [key] [Lat., = we order], in law, writ directing the performance of ministerial acts. A ministerial act is one that a person or body is obliged by law to perform under given circumstances; e.g., on receipt of the fee, a license clerk must grant a marriage license to persons legally qualified to marry. If the law allows discretion in performance, the act is not ministerial; thus mandamus will not be issued if, pursuant to statute, a license to sell liquor is refused because of the applicant's immoral character. Mandamus may be used to compel the directors of a corporation to produce the books for inspection in the manner provided by law or to compel a lower court to accept a suit it has illegally refused. Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy; i.e., it will not be issued if the usual remedies, e.g., damages for the breach of duty, are adequate. Mandamus, originally granted at the will of the English king, is now available from ordinary courts in Great Britain and the United States. In the famous case of Marbury v. Madison the Supreme Court was asked to issue a writ of mandamus against Secretary of State James Madison. See injunction.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.