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Foreword: Understanding Constitutional Reasoning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2019


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1 Lenman, James, Reasons for Action: Justification vs. Explanation, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (last visited May 23, 2013).Google Scholar

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10 Legislative reasoning has received more attention from legal theorists in recent years, as attested to by the launch of a new peer-reviewed journal, The Theory and Practice of Legislation 1 (2013) (formerly known as Legisprudence), available at Scholar

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17 With the half-exception of South Africa where a specific reference in the Constitution explicitly permits such considerations, even though important methodological questions raised by this provision remain unanswered, as explained by Francois Venter in the present special issue. See Francois Venter, Why Should the South African Constitutional Court Consider German Sources? Comment on Du Plessis and Rautenbach, 14 German L.J. 1579 (2013).Google Scholar

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21 Saunders, Cheryl, Constitutional Reasoning as Legitimacy of Constitutional Comparison, 14 German L.J. 1493 (2013).Google Scholar

23 For a criticism of legal and constitutional pluralism as mere rebranding of older theoretical positions, see Alexander Somek, Monism: A Tale of the Undead (University of Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper Series) (2010/22), available at Scholar

24 See, e. g., Michael S. Moore, Interpreting Interpretation, in Law and Interpretation 1, 1 (Andrei Marmor ed., 1995).Google Scholar

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43 2008 Const. art. 7(1) (Fr.) (“The President of the Republic shall be elected by an absolute majority of votes cast. If such a majority is not obtained on the first ballot, a second ballot shall take place on the fourteenth day thereafter. Only the two candidates polling the greatest number of votes in the first ballot, after any withdrawal of better placed candidates, may stand in the second ballot.”).Google Scholar

44 Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland [GG] [Basic Law], May 23, 1949, BGBl. I at art. 2(1) (Ger.) (“Every person shall have the right to free development of his personality insofar as he does not violate the rights of others or offend against the constitutional order or the moral law.”).Google Scholar

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57 See, e.g., Thomas G. Hansford & James F. Spriggs II, The Politics of Precedent on the U.S. Supreme Court (2006).Google Scholar

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60 See Benesh, Sara C. & Czarnezki, Jason J., The Ideology of Legal Interpretation, 29 Wash. U. J. L. & Pol'y 113 (2009); Gates, John B. & Phelps, Glenn A., Intentionalism in Constitutional Opinions, 49 Pol. Res. Q. 245 (1996).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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62 See Staudt, Nancy et al., Judging Statutes: Interpretive Regimes, 38 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 1909 (2004); Zeppos, Nicholas S., Use of Authority in Statutory Interpretation: An Empirical Analysis, 70 Tex. L. Rev. 1073 (1991).Google Scholar

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64 Staudt, et al., supra note 62; Zeppos, supra note 62.Google Scholar

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66 This is unlike supreme courts holding the power of constitutional review, which can decide between basing their rulings on statutory grounds and basing them on constitutional grounds. For a valuable attempt to model the conditions under which the U.S. Supreme Court will choose the statutory or the constitutional mode, see Pablo T. Spiller & Matthew L. Spitzer, Judicial Choice of Legal Doctrines, 8 J.L. Econ. & Org. 8 (1992).Google Scholar

67 For a formal analysis of the incentives to write vague opinions, see Jeffrey K. Staton & Georg Vanberg, The Value of Vagueness: Delegation, Defiance, and Judicial Opinions, 52 Am. Journal of Pol. Sci. 504 (2008).Google Scholar

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73 Whether a ban on separate opinions actually results in longer court opinions is not obvious. Recent research on dissenting behavior on U.S. federal courts reveals that majority opinions are, on average, twenty percent longer when a dissent is published. See Lee Epstein et al., Why (And When) Judges Dissent: A Theoretical And Empirical Analysis, 3 J. of Legal Analysis 101 (2011).Google Scholar

74 Even so, valuable insights into the judicial opinion-making process have been gained from interview data. Uwe Kranenpohl, for example, has investigated the internal decision-making dynamic and the influence of the opinion-writer on judicial outcomes on the German Federal Constitutional Court by interviewing dozens of constitutional judges. See Uwe Kranenpohl, Herr des Verfahrens oder nur einer unter Acht? Der Einfluss des Berichterstatters in der Rechtsprechungspraxis des Bundesverfassungsgerichts, 30 Zeitschrift für Rechtssoziologie 135; Uwe Kranenpohl, Hinter dem Schleier des Beratungsgeheimnisses (2010).Google Scholar

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77 Both forms of communication matter in the case of constitutional discourse. This is obvious for verbal communication. But non-verbal messages have their importance, too. Consider, for example, the distinct dresscodes constitutional judges hold on to—German constitutional judges wear the distinctive velvet robe—and the carefully orchestrated choreography that typically accompanies the announcement of constitutional court rulings, which, in so many ways, mimics a church service.Google Scholar

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94 For the Supreme Court of Canada's same-sex marriage opinion, see Re Same-Sex Marriage, [2004] 3 S.C.R. 698 (Can.) (“The “frozen concepts” reasoning runs contrary to one of the most fundamental principles of Canadian constitutional interpretation: [T]hat our Constitution is a living tree which, by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life.”).Google Scholar

95 See Mowbray, Alastair, The Creativity of the European Court of Human Rights, 5 Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 57 (2005).Google Scholar

96 Esacove, Anne W., Dialogic Framing: The Framing/Counterframing of “Partial-Birth” Abortion, 74 Soc. Inquiry 70 (2004).Google Scholar

97 The frequency with which these negative frames are used suggests the intriguing paradox that the judges’ critics are often precisely those who contribute most to perpetuate a legalistic picture of adjudication.Google Scholar

98 For an introduction to content analysis, see Klaus H. Krippendorff, Content Analysis: An Introduction to its Methodology (3rd ed., 2012).Google Scholar

99 Because they focus on the lexical dimension of language and model the occurrence of words as independent events (the occurrence of “rancid” does not make the occurrence of “butter” any more likely), automated content analysis techniques cannot directly capture the propositional content of texts. Indeed, they will usually fail to differentiate between the statement “democracy matters” and the contrary statement “democracy doesn't matter.” Yet we can plausibly assume that political actors, including judges, will refrain from making statement such as “democracy doesn't matter” when seeking to distinguish their position from those who go by the slogan “democracy matters.”Google Scholar

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124 Inasmuch as legal academics see themselves as purveyors of doctrinal arguments for the courts, this means they, too, should avoid overt politicization. See Andreas Voßkuhle, Die politischen Dimensionen der Staatsrechtslehre, in Staatsrechtslehre als Wissenschaft 138 (Helmuth Schulze-Fielitz ed., 2007); Michael Stolleis, Staatsrechtslehre und Politik 26–27 (1996).Google Scholar

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128 Alexy speaks of “ideal” and “real” obligations (referring to the German word sollen). See Alexy, Zum Begriff, supra note 91, at 79. In this sense, an ideal obligation is any obligation that does not require that its content be both factually and legally possible in its entirety, but requires that its fulfillment be as extensive as possible. Id. at 81.Google Scholar

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130 Pointing to the danger that fundamental rights may lose their trump function as a result. See Jürgen Habermas, Die Einbeziehung Des Anderen 368 (1996).Google Scholar

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132 Every principle (generally, a fundamental right) could then be qualified with a conditional clause, such as “and so long as no contrary principle of greater weight requires something else.” Thereby principles become all-or-nothing rules. See Manuel Atienza & Juan Ruiz Manero, A Theory of Legal Sentences 9 (1998).Google Scholar

133 ‘Either one does or does not optimize,’ optimization imperatives, therefore, have the structure of rules. See Aulis Aarnio & Jan-Reinard Sieckmann, Taking Rules Seriously, in 42 ARSP Beiheft 187 (1990).Google Scholar

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139 On that score we cannot but agree with Judge Richard Posner when he says that:Google Scholar

Academics who are not seriously engaged with the judiciary urge judges to change by adopting this or that approach, and usually it is an approach designed to clip judges’ wings. Judges are not interested in having their wings clipped, but will happily adopt restrainist approaches as rhetorical tools to persuade others that what looks judicial assertiveness is obedience. Academics who are serious about wanting judges to change have to appeal to their self-interest.

See Richard A. Posner, How Judges Think 215–16 (2009).

140 Tusseau, Guillaume, A Plea for a Hint of Empiricism in Constitutional Theory: A Comment on Cesare Pinelli's “Constitutional Reasoning and Political Deliberation,” 14 German L.J. 1183 (2013).Google Scholar