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Roman Herzog

Roman Herzog

Roman Herzog (born 1934) was a politician and, beginning in 1987, president of the German Federal Constitutional Court. He was elected president of Germany in 1994 as the candidate of the Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union.

Roman Herzog was born on April 5, 1934, in Landshut, a small city in Bavaria. His father was an employee in a tobacco plant and later became an archivist and director of a museum. The young Herzog, who had taken Latin at the secondary school, taught it to his father, who needed it in his new career.

Recipient of a Bavarian state scholarship, Roman Herzog studied law in Munich. In 1958, one year after passing the first bar examination, he received the degree of doctor of jurisprudence. For the next six years he was assistant to an ultraconservative law professor. From 1964 to 1966 Herzog taught law at the University of Munich. In 1966 he became professor of law and politics at the Free University of Berlin. Three years later he accepted a similar position at the University of Administrative Sciences in Speyer, where he also served as president from 1971 to 1972.

Early Political Career

In 1970 Herzog joined the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the conservative party, which at the time was the chief national opposition party to the government in Bonn, the capital of what was then West Germany. Helmut Kohl, then the CDU minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate and future German chancellor, was impressed by Herzog's successful academic and administrative career. In 1973 Kohl, as minister-president, appointed Herzog to the position of state secretary. For the next five years Herzog was the chief representative of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in Bonn and became one of Kohl's close unofficial advisers.

After moving to Stuttgart in 1978, Herzog became minister of culture and then minister of the interior in the Baden-Wuerttemberg CDU-led cabinets. In the latter position he pursued a tough law and order policy. For instance, he required participants in illegal sit-down demonstrations to pay fines that were used to offset the cost of the extra police units marshaled to break up the demonstrations. In 1982 Herzog recommended that the police be better armed to fight the state's radical opponents. Civil libertarians, including the state commissioner for data protection, took issue with his policies limiting the civil rights of individuals.

In 1983 Herzog gave up his post as deputy in the state parliament, to which he had been elected three years earlier, and his post in the cabinet in order to serve as a judge on the Federal Constitutional Court. He was appointed vice-president of the court to the consternation of the Social Democratic Party, then in opposition in Bonn. Despite his earlier conservative political positions, Herzog, who became president of the court in 1987, voted with the majority of judges in an important case declaring a state prohibition against demonstrations near a nuclear power plant unconstitutional. The judges said that the law had violated the citizens' right to assemble freely.

Presidential Candidate

In 1993 the major political parties selected candidates for the federal presidency in an election scheduled for mid-1994. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian ally, the Christian Social Union (CSU), chose Steffen Heitmann, Saxony's minister of justice; the Social Democratic Party chose Johannes Rau; the liberal Free Democratic Party chose Hildegard Hamm-Brücher; and independents chose Walter Jens. Soon after Chancellor Kohl nominated Heitmann for the candidacy in October 1993 a bitter controversy erupted over the nominee. Heitmann not only alienated his party's foes but also many of his party's members with his ultraconservative statements on social and political issues. When the controversy could not be contained, Heitmann withdrew his candidacy, which was a bitter defeat for Kohl.

The CDU/CSU had to choose a new nominee for the five-year post. In January 1994 the executive committees of the CDU and the CSU nearly unanimously endorsed the candidacy of Herzog for the presidency. Only weeks earlier he had said in jest that the party should choose any candidate as long as the name was not Herzog. Once nominated, he said on a more somber note that the president should, through nonpartisan speeches, set a moral tone for the country and thereby play more than the role of ceremonial chief of state that the constitution specifies. Some presidents, such as Richard von Weizsäcker, in office from 1984 to 1994, fit such a model. The president is to be selected by a special assembly made up of all members of Parliament and an equal number of electors from the state parliaments. They choose among the candidates nominated by the parties. A majority of votes is necessary in the first two rounds, but in the third round a plurality of votes suffices for election, and on this ballot Herzog triumphed with 696 votes to 605 for Social Democrat candidate Johannes Rau.

More than a Symbolic Head of State

In his effort to set a moral tone for the country, Herzog tried to reconcile Germany's past with the present. He reminded Germans not to forget about their history, particularly the tragedies of World War II, but he also encouraged them not to be overwhelmed by their past. Racial prejudice and old wounds from history were seen by Herzog as issues dividing Germany. While the presidency of Germany is a ceremonial position and the president is not allowed to engage formally in political issues, Herzog nonetheless made his opinions known. He was a strong supporter of European integration and won the Charlemagne Prize in 1997 for promoting European unity. He also sought to mitigate tensions among opposing political parties through informal means, so that they could better deal with the country's problems, such as high unemployment rates.

Private Life

Herzog's political and judicial activities did not hinder him from devoting time to his high positions in the Protestant Church, including his six-year chairmanship of the CDU/CSU Protestant Working Group. In addition, he was a prolific writer, co-editing a leading law commentary on the constitution and a Protestant encyclopedia. He continued to teach part-time at the universities in Speyer and Tübingen.

Further Reading

There is no biography of Herzog in English. He wrote or coedited many volumes on constitutional law, including Verfassungsrecht (1978) and Unser Recht: die wichtigsten Gesetze für den Staatsbürger (1991); For an analysis of the Constitutional Court on which Herzog served see Donald P. Kommers, Judicial Politics in West Germany: A Study of the Federal Constitutional Court (1976).

"Germany's Herzog Urges Europe to Back Integration." Reuters Ltd., 8 May 1997.

"Germany's Herzog Warns Against Danger of Prejudice." Reuters Ltd., 2 March 1997.

Heneghan, Tom. "Herzog Honours Nazi Victims, Urges New Ways to Remember." Reuters Ltd., 19 January 1996.

Herbst-Bayliss. "Kohl's Policies Attacked After Record Jobless Rate." Reuters Business Report, 9 February 1997.

Konstantinova, Elisaveta. "Hecklers Call Herzog "Traitor" Over German Border." Reuters Ltd., 8 September 1996.

"Roman's Law." The Economist 342 (March 22, 1997): 66. □

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