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Court Decision Expected on Early Elections

Stefan Leidel (nda)August 22, 2005

The second senate of the Federal Constitutional Court will decide on Tuesday on the legality of an early election in the German parliament.

The decision whether Germans will go to the polls lies with these judgesImage: AP

The Federal Constitutional Court will rule on whether President Horst Köhler's decision to dissolve parliament after Chancellor Gerhard Schröder lost a vote of confidence is legally binding under constitutional law. The second senate of the Court has the responsibility to decide this and a decision is expected sometime in the week beginning Aug. 22.

The second senate is used to being in the spotlight. Its rulings have made headlines mainly due to the fact that the Bundestag, the Bundesrat -- the upper house of parliament -- or the federal government have often come out as the losers in these cases. The most high profile cases of recent times have been throwing out the government's attempt to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) in March 2003 and most recently the judgment against the European arrest warrant in July.

How the senate will decide is still open to question. During verbal negotiations on Aug. 9, the second senate revealed itself to be a body divided by the controversial positions of some of Germany's highest judges. However, speculation and unconfirmed press reports suggest a clear majority in favor of new elections. Here are short profiles of the judges that will decide.

Winfried Hassemer

Bundesverfassungsrichter, Vorsitzender des Senats und Vizepräsident des BVG, Winfried Hassemer
Image: dpa

Hassemer is the senate chairperson and vice-president of the court. He came to the court on the recommendation of the Social Democrats. The 65-year-old left-wing liberal, who considers himself to be an advocate of federalism, is a criminal law professor at Frankfurt University. Hassemer is known to be critical of the policy which allows early elections. Hassemer has already handed out some defeats to the red-and-green government: He was pivotal in the decision to throw out the ban procedure against the NPD and the judgment against the German EU-arrest warrant law. He is known for his intense but amusing negotiation style.

Udo di Fabio

Bundesverfassungsrichter Udo Di Fabio
Image: dpa

Bonn professor di Fabio came to the court via the recommendation of the conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU). The Süddeutsche Zeitung has called him an arch-conservative and neoliberal "preacher of values." Di Fabio has often deviated from the majority in senate votes and again finds himself in the middle of the conflict over the early election vote. In this new election procedure the independent lawyer and sociologist plays a key role.

Hans-Joachim Jentsch

Bundesverfassungsrichter Hans-Joachim Jentsch
Image: dpa

Jentsch is a CDU member and is seen by observers of the court as the "most political" of all the judges. The oldest member of the second senate at the age of 67, Jentsch was a mayor of Wiesbaden, CDU member of the Bundestag and Minister of Justice in Thuringia from 1990 to 1994.

Siegfried Bross

Bundesverfassungsrichter Siegfried Broß
Image: dpa

Bross was recommended to the court in 1998 by the CDU. Bross has described himself to be close to the conservatives, but independent. One of his colleagues, however, said that the Stuttgart-born Bross was actually somewhere on the left "between Gregor Gysi and Oskar Lafontaine." The 57-year-old counts himself as a defender of the social state who brought the NPD procedure to court and prevented, together with other "left" judges, a headscarf ban on teachers.

Lerke Osterloh

Bundesverfassungsrichterin Lerke Osterloh
Image: dpa

The daughter of a former CDU minister of education and the arts in Schleswig-Holstein CDP Osterloh came to the senate on an SPD ticket nearly seven years ago. The 60-year-old Heidelberg professor specializes in state law and tax law. She compiled the legal basis for the judgment for pension taxation in March 2002.

Rudolf Mellinghoff

BVG-Richter Rudolf Mellinghoff
Image: dpa

Mellinghoff came to the court in Karlsruhe in 2001 on the recommendation of the CDU. The 50-year-old was previously a judge at the federal finance court. For years Mellinghoff was a research assistant for the former constitutional court judge Paul Kirchhof, probably the best known tax law expert on the court and now a member of the CDU's election "competence team." Mellinghoff does not shy away from criticizing politicians or judicial interventions if, according to his view, a violation of the constitution is threatened.

Gertrude Lübbe-Wolff

BVG-Richterin Gertrude Lübbe-Wolff
Image: dpa

The 52-year-old professor for state and environmental law at Bielefeld University came to the senate on the recommendation of the SPD in 2002. The mother of four children is known as a "critical mind" in the senate. In special votes, like the judgment on the EU arrest warrant, she has proved that she can represent a different opinion in the senate.

Michael Gerhardt

Bundesverfassungsrichter Michael Gerhardt
Image: dpa

The 57-year-old came to Karlsruhe two years ago on recommendation from the SPD and quickly became known for his decidedly liberal views. When his colleagues decided to rule the state laws on security detainment as effective for the time being even though they violated the constitution, he pleaded for them to be immediately annulled - even though that would have meant freeing several offenders. For Gerhardt, the willingness to take risks is part of freedom. He's seen as a discerning, unconventional character who appreciates modern art.