Constitution and Politics
Spring - irregular
Objectives and Content
Introduce students to Norwegian Constitutional law, its foundations, the political processes in which it is embedded, and current challenges - all in a comparative context. The course is an interdisciplinary project between the Faculty of Social Sciences, department of Comparative Politics and the Faculty of Law, and addresses the topic both from a legal and a social science perspective. The lectures will be given by teachers from both faculties, as well as invited guests. The aim is to bring together students who share the same interest for constitutional matters in the conjunction between law and politics, but who rarely meet in the spaces created by the university.
The course will introduce students to ongoing research on central aspects of constitutional development and bring students up to date on the frontiers of research and literature in the field, encourage active participation and independent thinking in engaging with the issues, and provide a forum for students to exchange ideas and reflections. Through this course the student will gain an overview of the research literature on the Norwegian constitution, and the relationship between rule of law and democracy in Norway and compared with other countries. A constitution is an outcome of political activity, and at the same time it constitutes rules and arenas for politics, establishing the boundaries for all branches of the state, including the parliament, the central administrative apparatus and the courts. The students will engage with the main theoretical perspectives to understand the dilemmas involved in securing the rule of law in a modern state, and the checks and balances between the executive, the legislator and the courts.
The constitution is the legal basis of all modern states, and in Norway the written constitution "Grunnloven" (from 1814) plays an important role and will serve as a fulcrum for the discussions in the course. The executive power is vested with the King and the government, the legislative power lies in the parliament, while the judicative power is conferred to a single court system, with the Supreme Court in Oslo. A special feature in Norway has been to amend its old 1814 constitution instead of adopting a new one as society and the political system evolve. Since 1814, the constitution has been amended more than 300 times. Yet even after the linguistic overhaul and the modernization of the protection of human rights in 2014, the constitution contains many traces of its 19th century origins. Due to its old age and its many amendments, the Norwegian constitution requires careful interpretation. Another particularity is the historically strong position of customary law. The question is then how these features of Norwegian constitutional law fits with those we find in other jurisdictions.
The course will give an introduction to the principles and the architecture of three bodies of the state, and the checks and balances between them. Historically, the struggle for constitutional power was between the King and the parliament, where the latter in the end prevailed. An ongoing constitutional discussion is related to juridification and judicialization and issues of accountability. Contentious political issues regularly end up in court as constitutional challenges, in Norway, and even more in many other countries, and the course will discuss different perspectives on the constitution as a tool for social change and an arena for politics. This has partly a national component where courts are setting aside parliamentary decisions due to constitutional norms, but the forefront of this discussion is the influx of international norms, like the European Convention of Human Rights and the Agreement on the European Economic Area (which affiliates Norway to the European Union). Another constitutional development relates to the growth of different forms of accountability mechanism, like the different ombudsmen and the strengthened position of the Office of the Auditor General.
One aim of the course is to give an introduction of the "living constitution", which not only consists of formal constitutional law, but also includes the role of political parties, the central government apparatus, the corporative arrangements and the principle of local self-government. The course will discuss constitutional politics focusing on reforms and changes in the relationships between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government. As previously stated, the Norwegian constitution will be put in perspective by using examples from other jurisdictions when appropriate, and the literature covers different models of constitution-making.
A candidate who has completed his or her qualification should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:
- is able to define key concepts including constitution, constitutionalism, separation of powers, judicial review, counter-majoritarian dilemma
- can demonstrate knowledge of the Norwegian constitution and constitutional developments and explain similarities and differences between constitutional developments and politics in Norway and in selected other countries
- is able to demonstrate knowledge of different forms of constitution-making
- can demonstrate knowledge of European law and legal institutions that are binding on Norway and is able to explain ways in which these influence domestic law and politics
- can demonstrate knowledge of different forms of legal mobilization
The student is able to
- identify, analyze and reflect upon how law and legal institutions constitute, shape and constrain political action (generally and under the Norwegian constitution in particular), and how the legal institutions themselves are shaped by the political and social context.
- reflect upon arguments and positions put forward in contemporary scholarly and political debates on how European law and legal institutions affect (Norway¿s) domestic law and politics
- analyze and reflect upon how the nature of constitution-making processes may influence the functioning of constitutions
- reflect upon arguments and positions put forward in contemporary scholarly and political debates on judicialization of politics and judicial activism and debates
The student can
- critically relate concepts and perspectives in constitutional theory (on the relationship between law and politics and the role of constitutions and court) to different empirical situations
- engage in debates on how constitutions do and can address different social challenges and what is the proper role of legal institutions in a democratic society
- write analytical texts
Required Previous Knowledge
Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap
Full credit reduction with JUS286-2-A, SAMPOL326 and SAMPOL341 (spring 2014)
Access to the Course
Enrollment is limited to a maximum of 40 students. Students will normally not be admitted unless they have completed 90 ECTS.
Teaching and learning methods
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
- Attendance at 75% of lectures/seminars
- Participation in group presentation
The approval of a compulsory assignment has no time limit.
Forms of Assessment
Take home exam, 3 days, maximum 3000 words
Assessment in teaching semester
The course is evaluated regularly