Germany Legal Research Guide: Government and Political Structure

This is a guide to UW-Madison campus and e-resources for research in German law. Note that many sources here are in German, and in-depth research will require knowledge of German.

Government and Political Structure

Germany is a federal, democratic republic comprised of sixteen states (Länder or Laender). Power is distributed between the federal and state governments. (The Law Library does not collect German state law.)

At the federal level, the German constitution divides power between the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judiciary.    

Within the executive branch, the most powerful official is the Federal Chancellor, who acts as head of state, controls the federal government, and appoints Federal Ministers. In addition to the Chancellor, the German government elects a Federal President who acts in a mainly ceremonial capacity.

The highest bodies in the legislative branch are the two chambers of parliament, the Bundestag (Federal Assembly) and Bundesrat (Federal Council).
Judicial power in Germany is exercised by the federal courts, courts of the Länder, and the Bundesverfassungsgericht (BverfG). The federal courts are courts of appeal, and are at the head of five legal hierarchies: Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice), Bundesverwaltungsgericht (Federal Administrative Court), Bundesarbeitsgericht (Federal Labour Court), Bundessozialgericht (Federal Social Court, and the Bundesfinanzhof (Federal Tax Court). Länder, or State courts, are the trial courts and also preside over appeals in the initial states. The BVerfG is divided into two panels, each consisting of eight judges. The first panel considers cases concerning basic human rights, while the other senate resolves constitutional disputes.

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