The Federal Constitutional Court
A court and constitutional body
The Federal Constitutional Court has its seat in Karlsruhe. It is both a court and a constitutional body. It consists of two senates, each of which has eight Justices. The senates are chaired by the President or the Vice-President. The First Senate is responsible in particular for constitutional complaints by citizens who feel that their fundamental rights have been violated. The jurisdiction of the Second Senate includes, among other things, disputes in the area of state organisation law, such as disputes over competences between the Federation and the Länder or between the constitutional organs themselves.
As a constitutional body, the Federal Constitutional Court – unlike the specialised courts – is not subject to the supervision of a ministry and can decide itself on matters of its administration and organisation.
Every year, many new cases are received by the Federal Constitutional Court, including about 5,000 constitutional complaints. In order to be able to cope with this high number of submissions, chambers with three members each are formed by both senates. They mainly decide on cases that are not of fundamental constitutional importance, which is roughly 99% of the proceedings.
Each of the 16 Justices is assisted by four judicial clerks who have gained relevant professional experience at ordinary courts, public authorities, law firms or universities. The heavy caseload of the Federal Constitutional Court would not be manageable without the judicial officers, the secretarial and antechamber staff and the registry, the members of the general administration, the library and the IT department. In total, about 270 people work at the Federal Constitutional Court to ensure that it can perform its duties.
We join you in celebrating German Unity Day in Hamburg. The first celebration of German unity, the reunification of east and west, took place on the 3rd of October 1990 in Berlin. At that time, the people of the GDR had just successfully brought about change in the former regime, and in doing so had shown their strong commitment to fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law. Today, the Basic Law guarantees these values for the whole of Germany. It is the duty of the Federal Constitutional Court to safeguard them. Equally, it is the task of all of us to preserve and protect them for the future.
We are pleased to be able to present the Federal Constitutional Court and its tasks to you here, especially at the Festival of German Unity in Hamburg, and cordially invite you to visit our pavilion on the Rathausmarkt.”
Prof. Dr. Stephan Harbarth, President of the Federal Constitutional Court
The Federal Constitutional Court is responsible for ensuring adherence to the Basic Law in the Federal Republic of Germany. Since its establishment in 1951, the Court has helped ensure respect for and give effect to Germany’s free democratic basic order. This applies in particular to the enforcement of fundamental rights. All bodies exercising public authority are obliged to observe the Basic Law. In the event of disputes regarding the Basic Law, proceedings may be brought before the Federal Constitutional Court. Its decisions are final and binding on all other state organs.
The work of the Federal Constitutional Court also has political effects. This becomes particularly clear when the Court declares legislation unconstitutional. However, the Court is not a political body. Its sole standard of review is the Basic Law. The Court must not take into consideration questions of political expediency in its decisions. It only determines the constitutional framework within which policies may develop.
The Federal Constitutional Court at the Festival
In the pavilion of the Federal Constitutional Court on the Rathausmarkt, court staff will be answering questions about their work and providing insights. A variety of films will provide information, and judges are represented with video statements.