Constitutional courts and political uncertainty: Constitutional ruptures and the rule of judges. Part 1

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Authors: Julian G. Waller, Nathan J. Brown

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2017-4-30-46

Keywords: constitutional ruptures; constitutional vision; court interventionism; regime transition


In a constitutional rupture, when the fundamental rules of political life are uncertain, it is unlikely that constitutional courts could play a major role. Yet in some remarkable cases, such courts transform into highly interventionist political actors, even achieving some success. This paper provides a series of short case studies highlighting Hungary, Russia, Turkey, and South Africa to illustrate common elements that are shared across interventionist courts in such times – namely (1) institutional centrality, (2) strong and personalized court leadership, and (3) division among elected branches of the state. All of these factors then combine with a court-derived constitutional vision that undergirds a constitutional court’s legitimacy in the extra-constitutional period, which makes the court intervention in political matters effective and successful. Among the examined cases, the vision of the so-called “invisible constitution”, created by the Hungarian constitutional court. has proven to be quite effective. In general, the Hungarian case is the most expressive one while other cases are incomplete in any sense. However, they are valuable from the cognitive point of view. Several examples where at least one of the discussed factors has lacked confirm that only the combination of all three factors would make successful constitutional court’s interventions in politics possible. The introduced set of factors is then applied in detail to the case of post-Mubarak Egypt in order to explore the qualities of court interventions showing their ephemeral and self-limiting nature. The paper makes clear terms used for description of the addressed issues. In particular, it distinguishes between an interventionist court and an activist one. The important term of constitutional ruptures also is determined.

About the author: Nathan J. Brown – Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington, USA; Julian G. Waller – Ph.D. candidate, Department of Political Science, George Washington University, Washington, USA).

Citation: Brown N.J., Waller J.G. (2017) Konstitutsionnye sudy i politicheskaya ne­opredelennost’: razryv konstitutsionnoy preemstvennosti i “pravlenie sudey”. Chast’ 1 [Constitutional courts and political uncertainty: Constitutional ruptures and the rule of judges. Part 1]. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, no.4, pp.30–46. (In Russian).


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