Mar. 12, 2013 by Darius
In Hungary this week, the ruling party pushed through an amendment to the constitution that sharply curtails the powers of Hungary’s highest court.
The amendment was pushed through by the ruling party in Hungary’s parliament, which controls a sufficient supermajority to avoid real engagement with the opposition. Hungary’s highest court will no longer be able to strike down a law passed by a two-thirds parliamentary majority. It will only be able to “review and judge future amendments on procedural grounds, not on their content.” (Source: “Hungarian Parliament Passes Controversial Constitutional Changes,” Deutsche Welle [Germany], March 11, 2013, http://www.dw.de/hungarian-parliament-passes-controversial-constitutional-changes/a-16664345)
Since Marbury v. Madison, judicial review has played a vital role in every viable democracy. The principle is enshrined in many constitutions. Judicial review not only provides a check on the other branches of government, it also guards personal liberties and protects the rights of minorities against oppression by the majority.
Hungarians should be very concerned about the latter. Just a few months ago, right-wing members of the Hungarian parliament warned about the threat posed by Jews and called for a list of Jews to be compiled on the grounds that Jews are threats to national security. (Source: “Outrage at ‘Jewish List’ Call in Hungary Parliament,” Reuters, November 27, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/27/us-hungary-antisemitism-idUSBRE8AQ1BN20121127) Such talk would have been more at home in 1930s Germany. All of mainstream Hungarian society immediately condemned the speech, but the incident made clear that enough people harbor these sorts of views about minorities that they would be spoken aloud by members of parliament. Their views may not be mainstream today, but who can say what the future holds. We design a government, including a court system, to rule us – and keep us from doing harm to each other – today and in the future.
Gutting Hungary’s constitutional court to meet short term political goals is no way to run a country.