Germany's upper house is arguing before the court that the fringe party's manifesto is "essentially identical" to Adolf Hitler's platform. Germany hasn't closed down a political party in more than half a century.
Germany's Federal Constitutional Court began hearing arguments on Tuesday with regard to banningthe far-right National Democratic Party (NPD),
the second attempt to prohibit the party.
The case hinges on the question of whether the neo-Nazi NPD poses a threat to Germany's constitution and democratic order.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the trial was pathbreaking. In a message on Twitter, he said the process did not mean that the fight against the far right was over and that "racism and extremism" had to be weeded out from people's heads.
Even if the Federal Constitutional Court banned the NPD, right-wing extremists would still exist, he said, expressing concerns that right-wing parties were getting even closer following the refugee crisis.
The justice minister also condemned recent attacks against refugee shelters and said that these incidents were "shameful" for the country. "We need to send a clear message to the culprits: We will do everything so that all of them are punished. We will protect our democracy and our state with full determination," he said.
Shortly before the hearing began in Karlsruhe in southern Germany, NPD lawyer Peter Richter said "it didn't matter" what the Bundesrat thought of the issue. Saying the party didn't need to prove its legality, he added that if the NPD were offered a platform through the process, then it would use the opportunity.
The Bundesrat - the upper house of parliament, which represents Germany's 16 states - brought the case forward in 2013, tying the party to a platform of violence, racism and fear that resembles outlawed Nazism.
The states' case will try to support these allegations and show vigilante justice and violence are an integral part of the NPD's self-image.
The states will also try to link the NPD tothe National Socialist Underground,
which carried out 10 murders, mostly against ethnic Turks, between 2000 and 2006.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government supports the case although it is not formally a part of the file against the party. Opponents of the ban argue the NPD is only a small fraction of right-wing politics in Germany and its closure would do little but turn party members into martyrs.
The NPD has never crossed the national 5-percent threshold to enter parliament, winning just 1.3 percent of the vote in 2013.
However, it has seats in the state parliament in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and therefore receives state financial support, a sore point for those opposed to state funds being provided to a neo-Nazi party.
The party is also represented in several city councils in former East Germany and has one seat in the European Parliament.
Second attempt to close NDP
The Bundestag, Bundesrat and federal government first sought to ban the NPD in 2001, but the Federal Constitutional Court closed proceedings after it was revealed Germany's domestic intelligence agency had infiltrated the NPD all the way up to the executive level.
Agents were only supposed to gather information and report on the party's activities. However, by embedding agents in the NPD's leadership, the state had put itself in the position of creating evidence or influencing the party's actions in ways that could help the ban effort. The judges rejected this practice and did not negotiate with the state or further examine the NPD to determine whether it was an anti-constitutional party.
When the Bundesrat submitted a new application in 2013 to close the NPD it said all of its agents had been "deactivated."
That point is likely to be a key part of the defense, which will argue that agents are still within its ranks and that the defense's arguments have been spied upon.
For both sides the stakes are high. If the court rules against the party, then its entire apparatus will be dismantled and its funds could be confiscated.
But, if the court rules in the party's favor for a second time, it will be an embarrassment for the government and the Bundesrat.
The hearing is scheduled to run for three days this week.
cw/kms (AFP, dpa)