This fall the German Law Journal sponsored a series of interdisciplinary programs at Washington and Lee University School of Law aimed at exploring the connection between the economic and social devastation Germany faced after WWII and its constitutional commitment to the Sozialstaat – or principle of social justice.
The program concluded earlier this month in Washington D.C. at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. Christian Bommarius directing editor of the Berliner Zeitung, author of the book The Basic Law: A Biography, and formerly the German Press Agency's reporter at the Federal Constitutional Court, delivered the keynote, followed by presentations from students and professors on their research findings.
As the economic downturn has pressured developed nations around the world to reign in government spending, W&L students and professors undertook this timely historical assessment of Germany's constitutional commitment to a "social welfare state." In a recent decision the German Constitutional Court reaffirmed its longstanding view that the social facet of the German polity consists of a "fundamental right to the guarantee of a subsistence minimum … ensur[ing] to each person in need of assistance the material prerequisites that are indispensable for his or her physical existence and for a minimum of participation in social, cultural and political life."
As a part of the program, students and professors conducted independent research, enhanced by a series of interdisciplinary lectures and a film series, to explore whether Germany's commitment to the "social welfare state" is merely an aspiration or truly a reality. Students presented their findings at the D.C. roundtable, and the best papers will be published in a special issue of the German Law Journal.
Students involved in the program say they found this interdisciplinary immersion into law and history challenging, but gratifying.
"These presentations and lectures were quite effective in illustrating the various social, political, and economic problems that the Germans faced during the period," said Peter Choi '12L. "Over the course of twelve short weeks, we had all become mini-experts in the field."
"This interdisciplinary discourse about German culture and history has challenged students to consider the contextual foundation upon which law develops," added Katie Abplanalp '11L. "Although the program focused specifically on Germany, the process is one that will motivate students to similarly evaluate the context of laws wherever they choose to practice."
Law Students also gave credit to W&L law professor Russell Miller, co-editor of the German Law Journal, for helping bring together scholars from all backgrounds, including W&L undergraduate professors and students, and German journalists, authors, professors, and students, many of whom participated from abroad.
The German Law Journal is the leading English-language legal periodical to comment on developments in German, European and international jurisprudence. The Journal is the most widely cited peer-reviewed, online law review in the world. The Journal's treatment of comparative and international law attracts more than two million site visits from more than 50 countries each year.