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Lüth's 50th Anniversary: Some Comparative Observations on the German Foundations of Judicial Balancing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2019


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On January 15th 2008, it was precisely fifty years ago that the First Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) (Bundesverfassungsgericht) handed down its seminal decision in the Lüth case. The Lüth decision can be seen as a foundational moment for at least two transformative Post-War developments in constitutional thinking that continue to influence legal systems around the world.

Copyright © 2008 by German Law Journal GbR 


1 BVerfGE 7, 198. For characterizations of the decision as ‘seminal’ and as a ‘linchpin of German constitutional law’, see for example Donald P. Kommers, The Constitutional Jurisprudence of the Federal Republic of Germany (2nd ed., 1997), 48 and 361; see also Thomas Henne & Arne Riedlinger, Das Lüth-Urteil Aus (Rechts-)Historischer Sicht (2005).Google Scholar

2 BVerfGE 7, 198, 204 (the decision is translated in part in Kommers (note 1), 361369).Google Scholar

3 Constitutional Court of South Africa, Du Plessis v. De Klerk, 1996 (3) S.A. 850, citing Lüth several times, in particular in paras. 40 and 103; see also Supreme Court of Canada, RWDSU v. Dolphin Delivery Ltd., [1986] 2 S.C.R. 573. For a comparative analysis of doctrines of horizontal effect, see Mark Tushnet, The issue of state action/horizontal effect in comparative constitutional law, 1 I-CON 79 (2003).Google Scholar

4 See Case C-438/05, International Transport Workers’ Federation & Finnish Seamen's Union v. Viking Line ABP & Ou Viking Line Eesti, decision of 11 December 2007 (not yet published). The Opinion of Advocate General Poiares Maduro in the case refers explicitly to Lüth (in its footnote 38). [Editors’ note: see the case commentary by Norbert Reich – in this issue]Google Scholar

5 Lorraine E. Weinrib, The Postwar Paradigm and American Exceptionalism, in The Migration of Constitutional Ideas (Sujit Choudhry ed., 2006).Google Scholar

6 BVerfGE 7, 377 (Apotheken).Google Scholar

7 Kommers, Donald P., Germany: Balancing Rights and Duties, in Interpreting Constitutions: A Comparative Study (Jeffrey Goldsworthy ed., 2006).Google Scholar

8 See e.g. Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951), concurring opinion by Frankfurter J; Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109 (1959); and Konigsberg v. State Bar, 366 U.S. 36 (1961). For one of the earliest analyses of ‘balancing’ in freedom of expression cases at the Supreme Court, see Laurent B. Frantz, The First Amendment in the Balance, 71 Yale Law Journal 1424 (1962).Google Scholar

9 For an overview of these debates, see John Hart Ely, Flag Desecration: A Case Study in the roles of Categorization and Balancing in First Amendment Analysis, 88 harvard law review 1482 (1975).Google Scholar

10 Duncan Kennedy, A Critique Of Adjudication 99 and 147 (1997).Google Scholar

11 On the formalizing importance of ‘balancing tests’, see mitchel lasser, judicial deliberations 78 (2004).Google Scholar

12 Henkin, Louis, Infallibility under Law: Constitutional Balancing, 78 colum. l. rev. 1022, 1024 (1978)Google Scholar

13 FSchauer, rederick, Freedom of Expression Adjudication in Europe and the United States: A Case Study in Comparative Constitutional Architecture, in european and u.s. constitutionalism (Georg Nolte ed., 2005).Google Scholar

14 Id., 59.Google Scholar

15 Kennedy, Compare Duncan and Belleau, Marie-Claire, La place de René Demogue dans la généalogie de la pensée juridique contemporaine, 56 Revue Interdisciplinaire D'Etudes Juridiques 163, 180 (2006) for an indication that institutional considerations are much more important in U.S. discourses on balancing than in European views.Google Scholar

16 For the culmination of this formal conception of balancing, see Robert Alexy, A Theory of Constitutional Rights (2004).Google Scholar

17 Compare BVerfGE 7, 198, 205.Google Scholar

18 Compare id., 210-211.Google Scholar

19 Id., 212.Google Scholar