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Federal Constitutional Court Verdict Banning the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and the Concluding Justification (August 17, 1956)

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In the Name of the Law

The errors and misunderstandings regarding these hearings that have arisen in the public mind induce me to make a few clarifications before announcing the essential grounds for the decision:

The Constitutional Court cannot initiate proceedings itself. In every case, a petitioner needs to make the request. A petition to ban a political party can be filed by the Federal Government. It is within the government’s political discretion and exclusive political responsibility to decide whether it wants to and should file the petition. The court’s decision must be based on purely legal principles; it is thus prohibited from taking political expediency into consideration.

According to Article 21, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law, parties which, by reason of their aims or the behavior of their members, seek to impair or destroy the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany are unconstitutional. The Federal Constitutional Court decides on the question of unconstitutionality.

Thus, in these hearings, the court only had to decide whether the aims and behavior of the KPD engendered the legal situation described in Article 21, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law. The court had to examine whether these aims were compatible with the fundamental ideals of our democracy. The doctrine of Marxism-Leninism as a political philosophy is not the subject of these legal proceedings.

The court and also the individual judges received an extraordinary number of communications requesting that the proceedings be stopped and that participation in a ban be avoided. In many instances these communications contained massive threats. Such influences may be effective elsewhere. The Federal Constitutional Court cannot be swayed in its judicial decisions by any kind of outside influence – no matter where it may come from. The Federal Constitutional Court is liable only to the law and bases its decisions exclusively on law and justice.

Source: Gerd Pfeiffer and Hans-Georg Strickert, eds., Outlawing the Communist Party, translated by Wolfgang P. von Schmertzing. Cambridge, MA, 1957, pp. 1-3. Translation edited by GHI staff.

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