The Federal Constitutional Court as a Veto Player

Research question/goal: 

The project wants to investigate when and under which conditions the German Federal Constitutional Court annuls statutes and in doing so becomes an effective veto player in Germany’s political system. A veto player is a political actor that can obstruct changes in the law. Due to its power of judicial review the Federal Constitutional Court is such an actor. Empirically it has remained unclear, however, how often and under which conditions the court exercises its power. Furthermore, it is still an unsolved puzzle to what extent the court’s actions within the complex institutional system of the Federal Republic of Germany contribute to stabilizing the status quo and to making the system incapable of reform.So far, research argues that the Federal Constitutional Court does constitute a veto player. However, it explains the court’s behavior almost exclusively by means of jurisprudential approaches. In contrast to these lines of arguments, the project introduces concepts used specifically in political science, namely judges’ political preferences as explanatory factors. These are employed to predict under which conditions the Federal Constitutional Court declares statutes void and hence does or does not make use of its veto power. There are differing constellations of actors which are expected to make the court less or more likely to act as a veto player. They can be observed when looking at government compositions, legislative procedures, majorities in the Bundesrat, and preferences of judges resulting in changing court majorities. To examine this empirically the project will conduct studies on the basis of legislative procedures and rulings of the Federal Constitutional Court from 1976 to 2009.

Current stage: 

In 2013 the main focus of our research laid on connecting our self-collected data on decisions of the GFCC to data on political and societal developments in Germany, and we programmed the first version of our Constitutional Court Database. Furthermore, we wrote several individual papers and a joint paper including a game theoretic model to assess the veto player potential of the GFCC. All papers were presented at the ECPR Joint Sessions in Mainz and the ECPR General Conference in Bordeaux. In addition, we participated in the founding conferences of the DVPW standing group on Politics and Law.

Fact sheet

Funding: 
DFG
Duration: 
2011 to 2015
Status: 
ongoing
Data Sources: 
Data from rulings of the Federal Constitutional Court 1976-2009; GESTA/DIP-Database
Geographic Space: 
Germany

Publications