Professor Justin Collings’s recently published book, Democracy’s Guardians: A History of the German Federal Constitutional Court, 1951-2001, was reviewed in the January 5, 2016, edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). The FAZ is Germany’s largest and most influential daily newspaper. It is Germany’s newspaper of record—the equivalent, more or less, of the New York Times. The author of the review was Florian Meinel, a distinguished law professor at Humboldt University in Berlin.
Meinel notes that “all of the defining issues of postwar German history have depended, directly or indirectly, on the decisions” of the Federal Constitutional Court. Professor Collings’s “lively and entertainingly written book,” Meinel observes, is the first complete history of the Court. It “narrates the history of postwar West-German democracy from the perspective of its constitutional guardians.”
Meinel writes that the book describes six decades’ worth of “conflicts between the Karlsruhe Court and the German public and political class,” and situates those conflicts “intelligently within the history of West German thought.” The book also emphasizes the judicial selection process, which typically takes place in Germany quietly and behind closed doors. “Above all,” Meinel concludes, “Collings shows that, and why, the enduring conflict between the Constitutional Court and the governmental system of the Federal Republic has had such a dramatic, and within Europe unprecedented, influence.”