The Federal Constitutional Court as a Veto Player

Research question/goal: 

This 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 behaviour 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 more or less 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 2014 we continued cleaning the huge amount of collected data and launched an updated version of the Constitutional Court Database. Employing these data we were able to present first empirical results of our research at several conferences, including the MPSA in Chicago and the APSA in Washington, D.C. Currently, we are in the process of finalizing the database by linking data on the legislative process to the body of court data.

Fact sheet

2011 to 2015
Data Sources: 
Data from rulings of the Federal Constitutional Court 1976-2009; GESTA/DIP-Database
Geographic Space: