The Law-related Internet Project originally was part of the
Legal Internet Project Saarbrücken under the direction of
David Thorneloe. --- This is an archive of this project. ---
A relaunch has been taken place as Law Web Saarbrücken.
The Federal Constitutional Court
(German Law and Legal System: Index)
The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, or BVerfG) is Germany's
Supreme Court, and its role is essentially "Guardian of the Constitution".
A case coming before the Court may be heard by one of its two Senates, or for important
cases, by the Court in plenary session. There are 16 judges divided equally between the two
senates, and they each hold office for a non-renewable period of 12 years. Half the judges are
elected by the Bundestag (the directly elected lower house of the parliament), and half are
elected by the Bundesrat (the upper house made up of representatives from the state
governments). In both cases, the judges are elected by a two-thirds majority, a procedure
which leads to much hard-bargaining between the major political parties as to the choice of
judges, since no single party can command such a majority.
The Court's principal areas of jurisdiction are laid down in Article 93 I of the Constitution
(Grundgesetz). These areas are also detailed, along with all the Court's procedures, in the
Statute of the Court (Bundesverfassungsgerichtgesetz, or BVerfGG). The six main juridictions
- Disputes between federal organs of the State as to their duties and reponsibilities
under the Constitution.(Organstreitigkeiten)
- Disputes between the federal states (Länder) and the federation (Bund), as to their
relationship and the division of responsibilities between them under the Constitution
- Verifying the compatibility of (federal or state) laws and regulations with the
Constitution. This is exceptionally available on an abstract basis to a limited group of bodies,
but is more normally available on a concrete basis for cases referred by a lower court, where
the lower court believes a law to be in breach of the constitution, and this question is central
to the case. (abstrakte und konkrete Normenkontrolle)
- A complaint of unconstitutionality can be brought by any person believing his or her
fundamental rights to have been infringed by the act of a public authority, and who has
exhausted other routes to a legal remedy. For the purposes of this jurisdiction, Article 93 I not
only refers to the fundamental rights listed in Arts 1-19 of the Constitution, but also Arts. 20,
33, 38, 101, 103, and 104. (Verfassungsbeschwerde)
- An indictment procedure is also exceptionally available against the Federal
President or judges acting in breach of the Constitution. Controversially, this jurisdiction has
also twice been used to ban political parties (Sozialistische Reichspartei and Kommunistische
Partei Deutschlands) threatening the Constitution. (Anklageverfahren)
- Other miscellaneous procedures, including verifying the decisions of the Bundestag.
For more information (in English) on the Federal Constitutional Court, a good starting point is the study by Kommers, Judicial Politics in West Germany (1976).
David Thorneloe, 25.10.96