Constitutional Courts in Decline

von Maximilian Steinbeis

Dear Friends of Verfassungsblog,

It is not yet clear how the poker game between Barcelona and Madrid will end, at least in the long run. But one party can already be identified as a loser: the Spanish Constitutional Court. No matter who you root for in this exceptionally confusing and dangerous conflict – the constitutional court in Madrid has already suffered a loss of authority from which it will not recover quickly.

The Spanish Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS) determines every few years how much trust the institutions of the state enjoy on a scale of 0 (no trust at all) to 10 (maximum trust). In the timeline, an interesting picture emerges: The number of sworn enemies of the Constitutional Court (0 and 1) was mostly around 7-8% in the 1990s and 00s and then, by the end of the decade, starts to rise rapidly – to 14% (2010), 19.6% (2011), 23.4% (2013) up to 25.6% in April 2015, the latest survey for the time being. One out of four! If you add the moderate sceptics (2 and 3), you get almost 40% who tend to distrust the Constitutional Court.

Apparently, not only the moderate and ardent supporters of the Constitutional Court have changed their opinion during this period, but also and above all the indifferent: in 1998, a third responded with "I don’t know", today only one sixth. Two decades ago, you could get by just fine without having much of an opinion on the Constitutional Court. Not any more today, apparently.

It must be said, though, that this has also been a period of severe economic crisis in Spain. Confidence in all state institutions has fallen accordingly, not only in the Constitutional Court. However, the Court’s particular fever curve seems to reflect something else as well: the increasing politicisation of the court during the escalating Catalan quest for independence ...

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