Date of Degree
Benjamin C. Hett
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.
Bloch, Irit, "“Bending the Law” – Weimar Judiciary and the Political Bias Paradox of the Legal System" (2023). CUNY Academic Works.
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