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Federal Constitutional Court of Germany

The Federal Constitutional Court (in German: Bundesverfassungsgericht) is a special court established by the German constitution, the Grundgesetz (Basic Law). From its inception, the Court has been located in the city of Karlsruhe, intentionally dislocated from the other federal institutions (earlier in Bonn, now in Berlin).

The sole task of the court is judicial review. It may therefore declare public acts unconstitutional[?] and thus render them ineffective. As such, it is somewhat similar to the Supreme Court of the United States. However, it differs from it and other supreme courts in that it is not part of the regular judicial system. Most importantly, it does not serve as a regular court of appeals from lower courts.

Article 1 subsection 3 of the Grundgesetz stipulates that all the three branches of the state, that is, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, are bound directly by the constitution. As a result, the court can abolish acts of all three branches as unconstitutional — either for formal violations, e.g. exceedance of competences or violation of procedures, or for material conflicts, e.g. because the human rights prescribed in the Grundgesetzt were not respected. Although such acts may include court decisions, this is just a special case of judicial review and not part of the regular German appeals system.

The Constitutional Court has several procedures in which cases may be brought before it.

  • The most unique one compared to other political systems in the world is that of the Constitutional Complaint (Verfassungsbeschwerde), which means that any person (and not just a court) may file a complaint that his or her constitutional rights were violated. Although only a slim majority of these are actually successful (ranging around 2.5 % since 1951), several of these resulted in major legislation overturns, especially in the field of taxing. The large majority of the court's procedures fall in this category, with 135,968 such Complaints filed from 1957 to 2002.

  • Besides, any regular court which has doubts about whether a law in question for a certain case is in conformance with the constitution may suspend that case and bring this law before the Constitutional Court.

  • Several political institutions, including the governments of the Bundeslšnder, may bring a law passed by the federal legislation before the court if they consider it unconstitutional. The most well-known examples of these procedures included legislation about abortion, which -- in highly debated rulings -- were declared unconstitutional twice by the Constitutional Court.

  • Federal institutions, including members of the Bundestag, may bring internal disputes over competences and procedures before the Court.

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