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26 Comparative Political Studies 470 (1994)


The Federal Constitutional Court is a major policy-making institution in Germany's system of government. Within the space of four decades (1951- 1991), this tribunal has evolved into the most active and powerful constitutional court in Europe. Its pivotal character in the German political system sterns from its role as a judicial lawmaking body created for the specific purpose of deciding constitutional disputes under the Basic Law.1 In deciding such disputes-that is, in interpreting the language and spirit of the Basic Law-the Constitutional Court has influenced the shape of Germany's political landscape, reaching deep into the heart of the existing state, guarding its institutions, circumscribing its powers, clarifying its goals and, in some instances, instructing politicians to adopt given courses of action. Indeed, the Court has managed to colonize spheres of law and politics that only the most ardent supporter of judicial review would have thought possible in 1951. The purpose of this essay is to explain this development, to examine the exercise of judicial review in selected areas of German politics, and to describe the techniques the Court has used to build and maintain its authority.


Reprinted in Klaus H. Goetz (ed.), Germany, Vol. I (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 1997): 181-202.



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