Historiske eksempler på domstolskontrol

Mens jeg håber på at få tid til at besvare Kai Sørlanders senese replik, tænkte jeg at det ville være på sin plads at eksemplificere visse af mine tidligere pointer om domstolskontrol og magtens tredeling med en dom fra 1803. Nærmere bestemt den amerikanske Højesterets klassiske afgørelse i Marbury vs. Madison, der netop omhandlede, hvorvidt den amerikanske Højesteret i henhold til USAs forfatning kunne erklære en lov for forfatningsstridig og dermed ugyldig.

Dommen indeholder stadig den dag i dag meget visdom og dens grundlæggende præmisser kan i vid udstrækning siges at være overensstemmende med fundamentet for store dele af vestlig konstitutionalisme, hvorfor jeg må trætte læserne med et længere uddrag:

The very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws, whenever he receives an injury. One of the first duties of government is to afford that protection. The government of the United States has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men. It will certainly cease to deserve this high appellation, if the laws furnish no remedy for the violation of a vested legal right.


The question, whether an act, repugnant to the constitution, can become the law of the land, is a question deeply interesting to the United States; but, happily, not of an intricacy proportioned to its interest. It seems only necessary to recognize certain principles, supposed to have been long and well established, to decide it.

That the people have an original right to establish, for their future government, such principles as, in their opinion, shall most conduce to their own happiness, is the basis, on which the whole American fabric has been erected. The exercise of this original right is a very great exertion; nor can it, nor ought it to be frequently repeated. The principles, therefore, so established, are deemed fundamental. And as the authority, from which they proceed, is supreme, and can seldom act, they are designed to be permanent.

This original and supreme will organizes the government, and assigns, to different departments, their respective powers. It may either stop here; or establish certain limits not to be transcended by those departments.

The government of the United States is of the latter description. The powers of the legislature are defined, and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the constitution is written. To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may, at any time, be passed by those intended to be restrained? The distinction, between a government with limited and unlimited powers, is abolished, if those limits do not confine the persons on whom they are imposed, and if acts prohibited and acts allowed, are of equal obligation. It is a proposition too plain to be contested, that the constitution controls any legislative act repugnant to it; or, that the legislature may alter the constitution by an ordinary act.

Between these alternatives there is no middle ground. The constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.

If the former part of the alternative be true, then a legislative act contrary to the constitution is not law: if the latter part be true, then written constitutions are absurd attempts, on the part of the people, to limit a power, in its own nature illimitable.

Certainly all those who have framed written constitutions contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nation, and consequently the theory of every such government must be, that an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void.

If an act of the legislature, repugnant to the constitution, is void, does it, notwithstanding its invalidity, bind the courts, and oblige them to give it effect? Or, in other words, though it be not law, does it constitute a rule as operative as if it was a law? This would be to overthrow in fact what was established in theory; and would seem, at first view, an absurdity too gross to be insisted on. It shall, however, receive a more attentive consideration.

It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.

So if a law be in opposition to the constitution; if both the law and the constitution apply to a particular case, so that the court must either decide that case conformably to the law, disregarding the constitution; or conformably to the constitution, disregarding the law; the court must determine which of  these conflicting rules governs the case. This is of the very essence of judicial duty.

If then the courts are to regard the constitution; and the constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature; the constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.

Those then who controvert the principle that the constitution is to be considered, in court, as a paramount law, are reduced to the necessity of maintaining that courts must close their eyes on the constitution, and see only the law.

This doctrine would subvert the very foundation of all written constitutions. It would declare that an act, which, according to the principles and theory of our government, is entirely void; is yet, in practice, completely obligatory. It would declare, that if the legislature shall do what is expressly forbidden, such act, notwithstanding the express prohibition, is in reality effectual. It would be giving to the legislature a practical and real omnipotence, with the same breath which professes to restrict their powers within narrow limits. It is prescribing limits, and declaring that those limits may be passed at pleasure.

That it thus reduces to nothing what we have deemed the greatest improvement on political institutions — a written constitution — would of itself be sufficient, in America, where written constitutions have been viewed with so much reverence, for rejecting the construction. But the peculiar expressions of the constitution of the United States furnish additional arguments in favor of its rejection.

The judicial power of the United States is extended to all cases arising under the constitution. Could it be the intention of those who gave this power, to say that, in using it, the constitution should not be looked into? That a case arising under the constitution should be decided without examining the instrument under which it arises?  This is too extravagant to be maintained.

In some cases then, the constitution must be looked into by the judges. And if they can open it at all, what part of it are they forbidden to read, or to obey? There are many other parts of the constitution which serve to illustrate this subject. It is declared that “no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state.” Suppose a duty on the export of cotton, of tobacco, or of flour; and a suit instituted to recover it. Ought judgment to be rendered in such a case? ought the judges to close their eyes on the constitution, and only see the law. The constitution declares that “no bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.” If, however, such a bill should be passed and a person sho
uld be prosecuted under it
; must the court condemn to death those victims whom the constitution endeavors to preserve?

Why otherwise does it direct the judges to take an oath to support it? This oath certainly applies, in an especial manner, to their conduct in their official character. How immoral to impose it on them, if they were to be used as the instruments, and the knowing instruments, for violating what they swear to support!

The oath of office, too, imposed by the legislature, is completely demonstrative of the legislative opinion on the subject. It is in these words, “I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich; and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent on me as according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the constitution, and laws of the United States.”

Why does a judge swear to discharge his duties agreeably to the constitution of the United States, if that constitution forms no rule for his government? if it is closed upon him, and cannot be inspected by him?

If such be the real state of things, this is worse than solemn mockery. To prescribe, or to take this oath, becomes equally a crime.

Thus, the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the constitution is void; and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument.

Se også the Federalist no. 78 (Alexander Hamilton) og Sir Edward Cokes berømte opinion i Dr. Bonhams Case fra 1610.

11 thoughts on “Historiske eksempler på domstolskontrol

  1. LuckyLibertas

    Dette indlæg viser på højtidlig gammeldags og fint, at love skal være forfatningsmæssige og derfor skal kunne stå sin forfatningsmæssige prøve.Der findes vel ikke demokratier som benægter dette, der er blot forskel på hvordan og hvor meget man prøver.At der prøves lidt kan være udtryk for at lovgiver respekterer forfatningen eller at opståede tvivlsområder løses ved ny og bedre lov, som klart er forfatningsmæssig, på baggrund af en åben og demokratisk debat.Den klart grundlovshjemlede administrative udvisning af udlændinge kan ikke give grund til diskussioner om forfatningsmæssighed, men grundlovsændringer kan jo også diskuteres.

  2. Jacob Mchangama

    Ad LL:Vi har forlængst forladt den konkrete debat om udvisning af de to tunesere (hvor ingen på noget tidspunkt har gjort gældende, at grundloven forhindrede udvisning) og debatterer på det principielle plan, hvorvidt et liberalt demokrati bør tillade domstolskontrol med den lovgivende og udøvende magt.

  3. LuckyLibertas

    Jacob,Det kan jeg godt se 🙂 vær nu venlig og ikke nedladende.Jeg kommenterer meget tydeligt først den generelle diskussion med, at demokratier da prøver loves forfatningsmæssighed, men i forskelligt omfang og antyder at nogle har selvstændige forfatningsdomstole: “hvordan og hvor meget”.”At der prøves lidt kan være udtryk for at lovgiver respekterer forfatningen eller at opståede tvivlsområder løses ved ny og bedre lov, som klart er forfatningsmæssig, på baggrund af en åben og demokratisk debat.”Jeg slutter kun af med at nævne, at den udvisningsdebat du tog op som udgangspunkt for den udvidede debat, i denne sammenhæng er uinteressant. ( Det må i stedet blive en grundlovsændringsdiskussion, men hvorfor tog du den op, når den er krystalklar med vores forfatning.)Dette gør jo ikke min hovedkommentar irrelevant:) Love prøves og skal prøves og hvis evt. problemer med loves forfatningsmæssighed, med åben debat løses af lovgiver selv først, er det kun godt.Endelig kan en forfatningsdomstol også for Danmark være en god ting. Loves forfatningsmæssighed kan med rimelighed få sin egen domstol. Men en forfatning der også kræver domstolsprøvelse af udøvers konkrete skøn, under de love som selvstændigt kan prøves, har misforstået noget om den klassiske magtfordelingslære du vil diskutere. Men et folk kan selvfølgelig vedtage den forfatning de vil.Jeg vil gerne have præciseret hvad du vil opnå, som ikke allerede gælder.Og om du anerkender, at forfatningen er overordnet menneskerettighederne og uprøvede fortolkninger af forfatningen. Venligst

  4. Christian

    “Jeg slutter kun af med at nævne, at den udvisningsdebat du tog op som udgangspunkt for den udvidede debat, i denne sammenhæng er uinteressant. ( Det må i stedet blive en grundlovsændringsdiskussion, men hvorfor tog du den op, når den er krystalklar med vores forfatning.)”Hvor er det helt præcist du mener, JM har taget en grundlovsændringsdiskussion op?

  5. LuckyLibertas

    Christian,Ad. 5, Hvis man vil misforstå, så skal man? Læs hele teksten, jeg spørger til hvorfor Jacob tog udvisningsdebatten op og siger til sidst i parantes, og selvfølgelig på baggrund af debattens resultat, at debattens resultat tyder på, at vi bør have en grundlovsdiskussion istedet.Semantik er mange ting og semiotik med, men jeg vil da gerne fremover anstrenge mig, så vi ikke spiller tid på sådant her.

  6. Mikael

    @ 4 LuckyLibertasEndelig kan en forfatningsdomstol også for Danmark være en god ting. Loves forfatningsmæssighed kan med rimelighed få sin egen domstol.Har vi ikke allerede det med Højesteret, som jo bl.a. kendte Tvind-loven grundlovsstridig, ligesom den flere gange har taget stilling til paragraf 20 i forhold til EU.Ikke at jeg har en hujende fløjtelyd forstand på dette emne, det undrede mig bare, at vi skulle have behov for en decideret forfatnings-domstol som du skriver.Hvis du ønsker at svare, så gør det gerne i et børnehave-sprog, hvor selv sådan én som mig kan være med. 🙂

  7. LuckyLibertas

    Ad 7 Mikael,Jo, Højesteret kan glimrende prøve almindelige loves grundlovsmæssighed, men en egentlig forfatningsdomstol kunne accentuere kompetencen og måske tydeliggøre behovet, idet statsborgerne “med det bums” så kan se, at deres forfatning skal tages alvorligt når den “har sin egen domstol”.Alene antallet af love og skatternes omfang gør, at statsborgernes beskyttelse mod for indgribende en stat skal på demokratiets dagsorden.Visse emner løses bedst via den demokratiske diskussion og stemmeretten, og andre bedst i retssystemet og her nogle specifikt i en forfatningsdomstol.Det ville være en gave til borgerne hvis Grundloven blev et stort tema i medierne, så det måske kunne gå op for alle, at de har ret til beskyttelse mod for indgribende en stat og at staten ikke har lov til at forære borgernes samfund og dets grundværdier bort, hverken til EU, FN eller til ”menneskerettigheder”.

  8. Jacob Mchangama

    Ad LLDer er vel det lille problem at grundlovens frihedsrettigheder – om man som konservativ kan lide det eller ej – er baseret på menneskerettigheder, som i f.eks. den første franske menneskerettighedserklæring. Kunne du ikke snart også komme med noget der sandsynliggør din fortolkning om at undtagelsen i § 71 stk. 1 (og den indirekte i stk. 6) som først blev indsat i 1953 skulle betyde at hele grundlovens frihedsrettighedskatalog er forbeholdt statsborgere i modstrid med grundlovens ordlyd og en nærmest samlet litteratur herunder Matzen (helt tilbage fra 1909), Ross og Zahle? Og referencer til “Historien” og “Folket” duer altså ikke.Venligst,

  9. Christian

    @ LL”Det må i stedet blive en grundlovsændringsdiskussion, men hvorfor tog du den op, når den er krystalklar med vores forfatning”Hey Lucky! Dette er hvad du skrev okay. Jeg kan godt læse indenad.Tillad mig at gentage Jacobs kritik af dig. Hvis ikke du kan debatere uden at være nedladende, så lad være med at deltage. Det bliver hurtigt SÅ trættende!Okay?

  10. LuckyLibertas

    @ ChristianDen kritik du beskriver var ikke Jacobs, men min. Jeg har beklaget mit semantiske fejltrin, begået i en parentes. Er det ikke nok, er det ikke saglige, kloge og belæste borgere der taler?


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.