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Coping Strategies: Domestic and International Courts in Times of Backlash

Domestic and regional human rights courts around the world are under pressure. Populist, illiberal, or autocratic forms of governance have led to a global attack on constitutional democracy, and its guardians, courts. As a result, courts find themselves in a dilemma: should they intervene much more fiercely to uphold the rule of law or protect their institutional powers, but risk to be further attacked as enemies of the government and the majorities? Or should they practice judicial and prudential restraint to safeguard their institutional autonomy in the long term, but risk to be failing and regarded as foes by minority groups, civil society, and progressive movements who are on the receiving end of populist, illiberal or autocratic practices?

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Bolsonarism at the Ballot Box

If things go badly, the upcoming elections in Brazil may be the last ones for some time to come. On election day, voters face a stark choice not just between two candidates, incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and former president Lula. They also cast their ballot on the peculiar brand of illiberal government known as Bolsonarism that will not disappear on election day even of Bolsonaro loses. This blog symposium discusses Bolsonarism at the ballot box from the perspective of comparative constitutional law and different varieties of constitutionalism.

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The Ukrainian Wonder

Ukraine will win this war. As a democracy.

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Das ukrainische Wunder

Die Ukraine wird diesen Krieg gewinnen. Als Demokratie.

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Volume 4,
Issue 2
July 2022



9/11, zwei Jahrzehnte später: eine verfassungsrechtliche Spurensuche

9/11 hat sich zum 20. Mal gejährt. Welche Spuren hat dieses Ereignis in der globalen und nationalen Verfassungs- und Menschenrechtsarchitektur hinterlassen? Dieser Frage gehen wir gefördert von der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung in einer Folge von Online-Symposien nach und bringen Rechtswissenschaftler:innen aus verschiedenen Regionen und Rechtskulturen ins Gespräch.

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Referendar_innen gesucht!

Noch keine Wahlstation?

Bei uns sind im Sommer und Herbst noch Plätze frei

Jetzt bewerben!

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30 September 2022

The ECtHR’s Coping Strategy

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is operating in an increasingly challenging political and legal environment. Even if member states have stopped short of far-reaching reforms, they have signaled their collective desire for a more restrained Court, starting with the 2012 Brighton Declaration. Governments in established democracies, like the United Kingdom, have refused to implement or dragged-out implementation of ECtHR judgments. In some countries, government officials or major politicians have suggested exiting the Court’s jurisdiction altogether. Finally, several member states have rolled back domestic rights protections for politically unpopular groups, such as criminal defendants, suspected terrorists, asylum seekers, and non-traditional families. Continue reading >>
29 September 2022

The Overreaching Court

In the United States, it does not appear to be the case that the apex judiciary faces truly significant attacks on its autonomy, whatever the expressed unhappiness of an increasing number of critics. At least some would argue that the problem is precisely the opposite, that the Supreme Court has a smug sense of its own autonomy and is willing to use it with reckless indifference to the consequences for the American polity overall. Continue reading >>

What’s Next, Bro?

On September 25th, nearly 51 million Italians were called to the polls to elect the 19th Parliament of the Republic since 1948. All domestic and international media focused their attention on the two main novelties of this election: a landslide victory by a post-fascist, nationalistic, anti-European right-wing party and the paradox of the first female Prime Minister advocating a hyper-conservative view of women in society. Politically, these are no doubt major news. At the same time, Mrs. Meloni and her government-to-be is an unwritten piece of paper. Continue reading >>

The Visa Ban, Nikolai and his Russian Sister

The absence of an EU-level decision to bar perceived Russians ‘tourists’ from visiting the EU, however, did not prevent several Member States from adopting such measures at the national level, departing from EU law provisions currently in force. Contrary to the ‘tourist -only’ narrative, however, the new rules severely affect Russian family members of EU citizens and residents – an issue that, so far, has escaped public attention. Continue reading >>

Lessons from the United Kingdom’s „Enemies of the People“ case

It is difficult to deny evidence of a potential backlash against the judiciary in the UK. Both Miller decisions sent shockwaves through the United Kingdom. This is despite both decisions having the effect of protecting the powers of Parliament rather than the courts, and both having a marginal, if any, impact on the ability of the UK government to achieve its desired Brexit outcome. It is hard to forget the ‘Enemies of the People’ headline following the first Miller decision. Continue reading >>

Attack or Reform – Mária Kolíková’s legacy

Judicial reforms are always a sensitive topic. Judicial independence is a fundamental principle of liberal democracy and the rule of law. It is often treated like a golden calf, and this worship falls into a ritual. Therefore any interference with the judiciary by the executive or legislative power always raises attention. However, what distinguishes reform from an attack? Part II of this article on the Slovak judicial reform compare latest interventions in the judiciary to other reforms in Visegrad countries. Continue reading >>
28 September 2022

Globalization on the Right

When Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro visited Hungary in Februar 2022, he was not only strenghtening political ties to his ideological “brother” Victor Orban, who had already attended Bolsonaro’s inauguration in 2018. Bolsonaro’s visit also put a spotlight on the transregional circulation of illiberal legal ideas. Over the past decade, conservative, religious and right-wing movements, activists and governments have built transnational networks in which they exchange legal ideas, forge common litigation strategies, and organize mutual intellectual and financial support. This posts addresses the role of Brazil and Bolsonarism in these networks, and it points to some consequences for the wider research agenda of comparative constitutional law. Continue reading >>

Consensus and the Crown

The late Queen was loved by many of those who felt no allegiance to her, and respected by many who did not love her. By contrast, prior to his accession, the new King had struggled to be respected, let alone loved. Will his Canadian subjects maintain their allegiance to him? The question, however inevitable, is largely idle in light of the political difficulties that any attempt to secure constitutional change in Canada has encountered for 30 years. The monarchy will remain, by default if not by desire, just as King Charles III rather than his more popular son succeeded regardless of his subjects’ feelings on the matter. Continue reading >>

The Resistance-Deference Paradox

The Turkish Constitutional Court demonstrates the resistance-deference paradox as a pattern in its judicial behavior under autocratic pressure. The docket management strategies including prioritization and late responsiveness are also employed in politically sensitive cases. The deferring stances of the Court legitimize autocratization when core issues of the regime are at stake. In these cases, the Court develops an autocratic partnership that makes itself an unreliable actor without any commitment to judicial ethos. The resistant stances of the Court trigger the political backlash and clashes with the judiciary, leading to further contestation of political autocratization. Continue reading >>

Mária Kolíková is leaving

A few weeks ago in Slovakia, after the last step of the reforms of the judiciary structure and the separation of powers was achieved, the coalition crisis broke out in full scope. Furthermore, after a two months long ultimatum, the liberals left the coalition. This step also meant the resignation of the Justice Minister, who was responsible for the judicial reform over the last two years. Now is the right time to summarize how Justice Minister Mária Kolíková succeeded in her efforts to reform the judiciary. This is part I of a two part article on the Slovak reform of the judiciary. Continue reading >>

The Shadow of the Past, the Challenges of the Future

The outcome of Italy's election has caused worried reactions and general alarm both across Italy and internationally. It is the first time since the dark days of fascism that a right-wing party has won the general election and will likely head the government. It is undoubtedly a turning point in Italian politics and history, a radical shift in the political spectrum. Is Italy’s constitutional system resilient enough to deal with the post-fascist legacy of Brothers of Italy? Is Italian democracy in danger? Three days after the elections we have to be cautious with any such predictions, but I think some preliminary answers are possible already at this early stage. Continue reading >>
27 September 2022

No Institutional Upheaval in Sight in Italy

Will the new right-wing government in Italy under Giorgia Meloni attack the constitutional institutions? The program of the coalition and the numbers in Parliament both make that seem rather unlikely. Continue reading >>

Defending the Judiciary

The strategies of judicial resistance employed by the Polish judiciary after 2015 are diverse and complementary. They respond to changing and intensifying the pressure of political power on the judiciary. They are a consequence of the judgments of the CJEU and the ECHR concerning the administration of justice in Poland. Continue reading >>

Of Punks and Nerds

The 1970s and 80s brought about two new social archetypes – the punk and the nerd. While the anti-establishment punk wants to trash the (economic, political, social) system, wants to provoke and get attention for the sake of it, the nerd behaves rather inconspicuously but effectively. He might be socially awkward and overlooked at first, but skilled and smart as he is, he knows the rules of the game and the mechanisms to get ahead with his plans. When looking at different authoritarian leaders in the world today, these two archetypes come to mind. In this blogpost, I want to use these two archetype of authoritarian leaders to analyse their behaviour and sketch the contours of an analytical framework to compare and distinguish between them. Continue reading >>

Defective Judicial Appointments in Hungary

In recent years, a series of irregularities have been revealed in relation to judicial appointments in Hungary which have compromised judicial independence and raised serious rule of law concerns. These problems have been highlighted by various domestic and international stakeholders, and issues in the judiciary have become a core chapter in negotiations between Hungary and the EU within the framework of several rule of law mechanisms. The latest round of debates revolves around judicial appointments made by Chief Justice Varga to the Supreme Court which again raise the problem of institutional manipulation of the rules safeguarding the independence of the judiciary. Continue reading >>

Bolsonaro and Transitional Justice

Even 30 years after  the 1988 Constitution, the most democratic one in Brazilian history, the legacies of the military dictatorship still linger on - a fact that has been made amply evident by Bolsonaro's policies and discourse concerning transitional justice. Based on this, the present text aims to show how transitional justice has been deficient in Brazil and then discuss how Bolsonaro’s government has made the situation even worse by dismantling the policies that were developed under former governments. Continue reading >>

Mobilized to Commit War Crimes?

In that earlier post, I argued that states have a legal obligation to recognize the refugee status of Russian troops who flee to avoid participating in what is a war of aggression. That argument applies equally to this new scenario. Those who refuse to fight and who leave Russia to avoid doing so should be recognized as refugees.  However, there is now an additional way to ground that claim. Continue reading >>

Eroding Indonesian Local Democracy

Under the administration of President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), Indonesia undergoes a period of democratic decay and constitutional demise. In a recent example, there will be at least 170 interim regional heads leading their regions without any constitutional democratic legitimacy until the next General Elections in 2024, if the current malpractice by the Ministry of Home Affairs remains unchanged. Like the climate crisis, democratic backsliding is not some future grim prospect, but has already arrived and is well-underway. Continue reading >>

Coping Strategies of the Hungarian Constitutional Court since 2010

The very first step of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party after its 2010 electoral victory towards an ‘illiberal’ constitutional regime was to substantially limit the once very broad review powers of the Constitutional Court. The Fidesz government also started to pack the formerly activist Court with loyalist. By 2013 was appointed by Fidesz. Before 2013, the Court used some cautious strategies to keep a certain autonomy in the midst of threats to lose its independent status altogether by becoming part of the Supreme Court. Continue reading >>
26 September 2022

Why EU Countries Should Open Their Borders to Russian Draft-Evaders

In a significant escalation of his war in Ukraine, Russia’s President Putin announced a partial mobilisation on the 21st of September. Attempting to avoid the draft, thousands of Russian men are reported to be fleeing the country. Are EU countries obliged to grant asylum to Russians who are (pre-emptively) evading Putin’s draft? Continue reading >>