Volume: Volume 23 - 2019
Article type: Refereed article
Author/s: Schaks, Nils
This article addresses the question of how democracy and fundamental rights interplay, and compares German and South African law for this purpose. The author argues that democracy requires and presupposes fundamental rights, but that these two values do not always align, and then deals with the question of how to reconcile democracy and fundamental rights in case of conflict. The potential conflict between the two values is sometimes reflected in the relationship between Parliaments as the embodiment of democracy and the Constitutional Courts as the embodiments of fundamental rights (the so- called “counter-majoritarian dilemma”).
However, the author rejects the recent critique by some scholars that the German Federal Constitutional Court structurally exceeds its powers vis-à-vis the German Parliament and that there is a permanent judicial overreach. On the contrary, the author argues that Constitutional Courts do not have sufficient tools to counter a democratic backsliding, i.e. the incremental erosion of democracy. Since the author considers democratic backsliding to be a greater and more acute threat to democracy than judicial overreach, he presents the view that the guarantee of the essential content of a right delineates the minimum of a fundamental right in a democratic society. This view is explained using freedom of expression as example.