Caroline Wittig
Writing Separate Opinions: Acclimation Effects at the German Federal Constitutional Court

7th ECPR General Conference, Sciences Po, Bordeaux, September 04th to September 07th, 2013

Decision-making processes at the German Federal Constitutional Court are a widely under-researched field. While there is some literature on the Court’s interaction with other political players only very little is known about the processes inside the Court. Although the procedural rules do not allow looking deep into the practices and dynamics inside the Court there is one observation that gives an insight into the individual judge’s behavior: separate opinions. When do we find such separate opinions and why do they occur? Knowledge about this question furthers the understanding of the decision-making process at the Court. Therefore, this paper wants to contribute to learning about the occurrence of such separate opinions. It focuses primarily on the individual level shedding light on the question if a judge’s time in office affects his willingness to deliver a separate opinion. More specifically, it investigates the hypothesis that judges who are new to the Court write less separate opinions than more experienced ones. Research on the U.S. Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals provides mixed results as to this so called acclimation or freshman effect. While some studies find that judges who have just entered the court publish less separate opinions than their colleagues but adapt over time, others do not come to the same result. Do we find such an acclimation effect at the German Federal Constitutional Court given the personal characteristics, institutional constraints, and strategic considerations that may restrict the judges in their choice to deliver an additional opinion? The paper makes use of newly collected data and will therefore be able to provide a first empirical analysis of this question. In doing so this paper extends the research on separate opinions. Thereby, it offers additional understanding of the decision-making process at the German Federal Constitutional Court in general.