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Researching Courts: The Structural Transformation of Adjudication


Armin von Bogdandy

About the Project:

Traditionally, the task of courts is understood to be the application of the law in individual disputes; in international law, one often refers, even more vaguely, to the peaceful settlement of disputes. At the same time, it is a commonplace of research that supreme courts and international courts in particular do much more today. However, much remains open, which is where our research comes in: committed to the tradition of public law, its chief concern is ensuring that courts make their decisions as effectively and legitimately as possible.

Our research is distinguished by four features: First, we want to capture structures. We are less concerned with an understanding of substantive case law than with courts as institutions, in particular their procedural and organizational law, competences, and instruments. Second, our work is doctrinal-reconstructive and comparative. In keeping with the idea of a comprehensive public law, we compare domestic as well as international courts. Third, the formation of networks between courts, especially in Europe and Latin America, is of particular interest. Fourth, one of our focal points is the Global South, specifically Latin America, where we use new formats of research cooperation.

Three core concepts guide our work. First, the activity of courts is understood as the exercise of public authority. Although international courts as well as constitutional courts usually lack physical means of coercion to enforce their judgments, they exercise public authority. The exercise of public authority, secondly, raises the question of the normative legitimacy of the courts (Armin von Bogdandy und Ingo Venzke, Beyond Dispute: International Judicial Institutions as Lawmakers). In accordance with the doctrinal approach of our research, the main focus in this context lies on the reconstruction of legitimatory yardsticks that are derived from the law. The third core concept of our work is that of the legal area (Armin von Bogdandy, The Idea of European Public Law Today, MPIL Research Paper No. 2017-04). Thinking in legal areas makes it possible to connect the functions of jurisdictions at different levels and to shed light on conflicts and convergences in the context of the normative objectives of a legal area.

Courts in the European Legal Space

Current Projects

The project Ius Publicum Europaeum develops, with the help of a large number of colleagues, the historical foundations and doctrinal features of the various legal systems that support the European legal area. Volumes VI and VII are devoted to constitutional adjudication, Volume VI to national reports, and Volume VII to cross-sectional reports. An English version of the two volumes will be published by Oxford University Press in 2021 as Volumes III and IV of the Max Planck Handbook of European Public Law.


Comparative Research Projects on Constitutional Courts


Academic Qualification Projects


Completed Projects

International Courts and International Public Authority

Academic Qualification Projects/ Projects


Completed Projects

Constitutional Justice in Latin America

Constitutional adjudication plays a fundamental role in the democracies of Latin America today, particularly through its contribution to the constitutionalization of the legal order and the enforcement of human rights.


Ongoing Projects

The project Handbook of Latin American Constitutional Justice offers an analysis of the history, development, and current state of constitutional adjudication in Latin America.


Academic Qualification Projects


Completed Projects

Geopolitics and International Law in the Jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice

The project seeks to clarify the disputed relationship between geopolitics and international law, focusing in particular on the geopolitical factor in the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice and other international courts and tribunals. In particular, it aims to reconstruct the basic geopolitical concepts and explain how the geopolitical designs and the structure of geopolitical spaces have an impact on the conceptualization and interpretation of international law, and to process and analyze these issues in legal theory and in the doctrine of international law.


Ongoing Projects

The cryptic world of the ICJ: geopolitics and international law, in: Achilles Skordas/Lisa Mardikian (eds), Research Handbook on the ICJ, Elgar Publ. (Achilles Skordas)


Completed Projects

Ποιός φοβάται το Διεθνές Δικαστήριο? Διεθνές δίκαιο και διαχείριση των προσφυγικών ροών, (Who is Afraid of the International Court of Justice? International Law and Management of Refugee Flows),  in: Διλήμματα και συμφραζόμενα του προσφυγικού ζητήματος (Dilemmas and Context of the Refugee Problem), K. Papageorgiou/P. Sourlas (Hrsg.). Foundation of the Greek Parliament, in Greek, Athens 2019, 187-213 (Achilles Skordas)

The Missing Link in Migration Governance: An Advisory Opinion by the International Court of Justice,

A ‘blind spot’ in the migration debate? International responsibility of the EU and its Member States for cooperating with the Libyan coastguard and militias,

Discussion Fora and Partner Institutions

The Heidelberg Discussion Group on the Multilevel Cooperation of Constitutional Courts (Heidelberger Gesprächskreis Verfassungsgerichtsverbund), hosted by the Institute, is an annual forum at which the results of this research can be discussed with judges from both European courts and numerous constitutional and supreme courts.

There are close links with other court-related research projects at the Institute, in particular with András Jakab, Constitutional Reasoning in Europe, funded by the Thyssen Foundation, with Stephan Schill, Private-Public Arbitration, funded by an ERC-starting grant, and with Anuscheh Farahat, Transnational Solidarity Conflicts, funded by the DFG under the auspices of the Emmy-Noether Programme.