(A2-28) Critical Edition of the German Constitutions After 1945

This project aims at providing science with a reliable edition of the German state constitutions of the post-war era. Until today, there have been none. The state constitutions in their currently effective versions are now available in paper and online in a good and normally reliable way. However, in view of their access tailored to the application of law, these publications do not record the original and possible intermediate versions of the charters and therefore are not suited for the historiography of these documents. The popular edition by Pestalozza (Verfassungen der deutschen Bundesländer – Constitutions of the German states, 10th edition 2014) also does not achieve this; although it accounts for amending laws on the version announced last and contains footnote references to changes of the legislator entitled to make constitutional amendments, it does not provide orientation on the scale of the change or the previously applicable legal situation. The web page www.verfassungen.de tries to realise this for parts of the documents, but according to unanimous expert opinions it is extremely unreliable. Article 3 Clause 1 of the constitution of the state Greater Hesse from 22 November 1945 shall suffice as proof for the fact that texts were obviously published using automatic character recognition without any subsequent checks: “Der Ministerpräsident siebt an der Spitze der Staatsregierung.” (The prime minister sifts at the top of the state government. Explanation: the German word for “sifts” instead of “is” at the top or “is the head” of the state government). When considering the state constitutions that are no longer effective (that is, that of the East German states from 1946/7 as well as the predecessor states of Baden-Wurttemberg from the same period), the situation is particularly precarious. Those who want to work with them need to rely either on law gazettes, the website mentioned above, or contemporary publications.

In substance, the edition is guided by the publication “Weimarer Landesverfassungen” (Weimar state constitutions), which was edited by the project leader Prof. Dr. Fabian Wittreck in 2004 and received in a unanimously positive way by reviewers. According to this, the following documents ought to be recorded for every state: interim constitutions or allied charters, the actual constitutional charter, and the corresponding amendments. Amending laws are verified twofold, that is, in the main text as consecutive documents and in the footnotes, providing detailed proof of the changes made in the texts of the constitutional charter. The documents are supplemented by a verification of important decisions (plebiscites as well as legal rulings [on constitutional law]) as well as a bibliography that is as comprehensive as possible.

The added value of such an edition is evident: for the future historiography of the early Federal Republic (and the former GDR) in particular, the original text documents of the constitutions — both those currently effective and those no longer valid — are absolutely important sources (which has also been confirmed by the project A2-23 Religiously Radicated Economic Orders Under the Basic Constitutional Law – Neo-Thomistic Natural Law in German Post-War Constitutions), as they contain so-called ways of life almost throughout; that is, provisions on constitutional law concerning religions, the education system, matrimony and family as well as the economic order. This original orientation can, to some extent, no longer be reproduced in the versions effective today – an issue especially pronounced in Rhineland-Palatine, where it is hardly possible to detect any signs of the previously clear influence of natural law.
The technical implementation should be carried out in two ways, in other words, with a print edition as well as a digital edition that is to be created in cooperation with the University and State Library (Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek, ULB). Prof. Dr. Fabian Wittreck, together with Prof. Dr. Hinnerk Wißmann, already cooperate with the ULB on another editing project on constitutional history. The aim is to set up a three-step process: the collection and edition of the documents as PDF, the conversion into html documents by automatic processing and manual correction, and, lastly, the creation of a text corpus in which selected information may be marked so that it is later accessible to third parties (here predecessor documents from the interwar period, the Basic Law (Grundgesetz), but also international documents or occupying forces' law come to mind). The process step mentioned last provides a particular value added, as the legal sciences have so far had difficulties with “digital humanities” and, as of yet, practically not evolved past the limited functionality of texts simply put online.