Formal versus Functional Method in Comparative Constitutional Law
In the field of comparative constitutional law, the dominant approach to concept formation and research design is formal. That is, comparative projects generally identify what counts as the supreme law that can be enforced against all other sources of law based on the “constitutional” label of the positive law (written constitutions and the jurisprudence of constitutional courts) and the law books. This formal method, however, has significant limitations when compared with the functional method used in the field of comparative law more generally speaking. After a brief exposition of the functional method, this article explores the advantages of the functional method as applied to comparative constitutional law with the problem of judicial review (based on the supreme law) of social and economic policy-making in France, the United States, and Germany. Only in Germany is this law contained in constitutional law. In France, the supreme law is to be found largely in administrative law, because the constitutional court faces an institutional competitor, some would say superior, in the highest administrative court (Conseil d’État). In the United States, the supreme law is to be found in administrative law because economic and social rights—the rights that most directly affect this area of state activity—have largely been read out of constitutional law. Based on the functional method, the article proceeds to identify the similarities that unite the law of France and Germany and that set it apart from the law of the United States. It also outlines the important avenues of theoretical inquiry triggered by these similarities and differences in judicial review. The article concludes by sketching a functional agenda for empirical research in comparative constitutional law.