Disarming the guardians

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Pisa, Italy: Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna – Populism, Constitutional Democracy, and the Rule of Law workshop

Assistant Professor Eszter Bodnár, from the Faculty of Law of University Eötvös Loránd, Budapest, Hungary,* this morning spoke to her working paper entitled Disarming the guardians – the transformation of the Hungarian Constitutional Court after 2010.

She noted that the weakening of legal and constitutional checks upon executive and legislative powers is a common feature of populist governments as they see an enemy in powerful and disagreeing institutions. Further, that, as a consequence, they remain part of the constitutional system as guarantors of the rule of law, democracy, and human rights on paper but cease to fulfill their function in the separation of powers.

Turning specifically to Hungary as a case study on how a strong institution can be changed entirely in a relatively short time, she observed that the Constitutional Court was one of the strongest countermajoritarian institution in Hungary from the democratic transition until the constitutional changes in 2010, but that after this, the new governmental majority has started to transform the Court by constitutional amendments, statutory changes, and via reconstructing the composition.

Following from a structured overview of these steps, she set out her views on how the Constitutional Court, as a result of these steps, is currently operating (helping the government in politically sensitive questions, avoiding conflicts, postponing decisions, etc.), restraining itself also without direct political interference.  

*Professor Bodnar is also a faculty member in the Master of Electoral Policy and Administration program of Scuola Sant’Anna.