Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Benjamin C. Hett

Committee Members

Elissa Bemporad

Marion Kaplan

Julia Sneeringer

Subject Categories

Law | Legal History


Germany, Legal Positivism, Weimar Republic, Microhistory, Judiciary, Rule of Law, trials


This interdisciplinary, microhistory project which draws on historical, legal and sociological methodologies, examines the relationship between a new and unstable democracy and a hostile judicial system in the Weimar Republic (Germany, 1919-1933). In particular, it asks how Weimar judges who were bound to codes of law and adhered to the rule of law were able to manipulate laws and to produce judgments along ideological lines while keeping a semblance of legality. By analyzing judicial decisions in three non-political, criminal cases, this research explains the mechanism of subversion and offers a nuanced explanation for the judiciary's motivations to abuse the law. Judges, who felt threatened by social and political changes, deviated from their professional and legal duties by manipulating the criminal procedural law in order to pursue outcomes that accorded with their agendas, to safeguard their social capital and authority and to assert their role as guardians of the German state, to protect it from marginalized groups (Jews, women, the lower classes) whose presence in the public sphere was on the rise. Weimar Judges, who were mostly holdovers from the previous, non-democratic regime, used and abused laws; made decisions contrary to evidence; took advantage of recent legal reforms; integrated elements of antisemitism, sexism, and class prejudice to reach desired judgments while employing legal positivism and their inner knowledge of the legal system, to mask their agendas. Their decisions and actions resulted in a gradual damage to the rule of law and contributed to the slow erosion of democratic norms.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Tuesday, September 30, 2025

Graduate Center users:
To read this work, log in to your GC ILL account and place a thesis request.

Non-GC Users:
See the GC’s lending policies to learn more.

Included in

Legal History Commons