Constitutions, Courts and Politics

Undergraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content


The main objective of the course is to introduce students to constitutional law, Norwegian and comparative, and to the political processes in which constitutions and courts are embedded. Through theoretical perspectives as well as empirical examples, the course aims to enable students to better understand the political origins, functions and effects of constitutions, how they are mobilized, interpreted and enforced, as well as current challenges.

The course is an interdisciplinary project between the Faculty of Social Sciences, the department of Government and the Faculty of Law, and addresses the topic both from a legal and a social science perspective. The lectures will be given by teachers from both faculties, as well as invited guests. The aim is to bring together students who share an interest in constitutional matters in the conjunction between law and politics, but who rarely meet in the spaces created by the university.

The course will introduce students to ongoing research on central aspects of constitutional development and the political role of courts and bring students up to date on the frontiers of research and literature in the field, encourage active participation and independent thinking in engaging with the issues, and provide a forum for students to exchange ideas and reflections. Through this course the student will gain an overview of the research literature on the Norwegian constitution, and the relationship between rule of law and democracy in Norway and compared with a selection of other countries. A constitution is an outcome of political activity, and at the same time it constitutes rules and arenas for politics, establishing the boundaries for all branches of the state, including the parliament, the central administrative apparatus and the courts. The students will engage with the main theoretical perspectives to understand the dilemmas involved in securing the rule of law in a modern state, and the checks and balances between the executive, the legislator and the courts.


The constitution is the legal basis of all modern states. In Norway the written constitution "Grunnloven" (from 1814) plays an important role and will serve as a fulcrum for the discussions in the course, along with a selection of other constitutions from across the world that differ from the Norwegian in various ways, including the constitution of the United States of America, Germany, India and South Africa.

The course will introduce the nature of these constitutions; the principles and the architecture of the three bodies of the state, and the checks and balances between them. We will also discuss differences in the processes through which the constitutions were made, have developed and are being mobilized, and the implications for this, including for groups historically marginalized in constitution-making processes, such as women.

An ongoing constitutional discussion is related to what in Norwegian is termed rettsliggjøring - processes of juridification and judicialization and issues of accountability. Contentious political issues increasingly end up in court as constitutional challenges, in Norway, and even more in many other countries. This has partly a national component where courts are setting aside parliamentary decisions due to constitutional norms, but the forefront of this discussion is the influx of international norms, like the European Convention of Human Rights and the Agreement on the European Economic Area (which affiliates Norway to the European Union). Another constitutional development relates to the growth of othe accountability mechanisms, like the different ombudsmen and the strengthened position of the Office of the Auditor General. The course will discuss research on how courts can and do carry out their constitutional functions, and different perspectives on the constitution as a tool for social change and an arena for politics.

One aim of the course is to give an introduction of the "living constitution", which not only consists of formal constitutional law, but also includes the role of political parties, the central government apparatus, the corporative arrangements and the principle of local self-government. The course will discuss constitutional politics in Norway and other countries, focusing on reforms and changes in the relationships between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government.

Learning Outcomes

A student who has completed the course should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:


The student

  • is able to define key concepts including constitution, constitutionalism, separation of powers, judicial review, judicialization, counter-majoritarian dilemma
  • can demonstrate knowledge of the Norwegian constitution and constitutional developments and explain similarities and differences between constitutional developments and politics in Norway and in selected other countries
  • is able to demonstrate knowledge of different forms of constitution-making
  • can demonstrate knowledge of European law and legal institutions that are binding on Norway and is able to explain ways in which these influence domestic law and politics
  • can demonstrate knowledge of different forms of legal mobilization


The student is able to

  • identify, analyze and reflect upon how law and legal institutions constitute, shape and constrain political action (generally and under the Norwegian constitution in particular), and how the legal institutions themselves are shaped by the political and social context.
  • reflect upon arguments and positions put forward in contemporary scholarly and political debates on how European law and legal institutions affect (Norway´s) domestic law and politics
  • analyze and reflect upon how the nature of constitution-making processes may influence the functioning of constitutions
  • reflect upon arguments and positions put forward in contemporary scholarly and political debates on judicialization of politics and judicial activism and debates

General competence

The student can

  • critically relate concepts and perspectives in constitutional theory (on the relationship between law and politics and the role of constitutions and court) to different empirical situations
  • engage in debates on how constitutions do and can address different social challenges and what is the proper role of legal institutions in a democratic society
  • write analytical texts

ECTS Credits


Level of Study


Semester of Instruction

Spring - irregular
Required Previous Knowledge
Recommended Previous Knowledge
  • AORG103/ GOV103
  • AORG104/GOV104
  • AORG107/GOV107
  • AORG209
  •       or

  • SAMPOL105
  • SAMPOL106
  • SAMPOL107
  • SAMPOL115
  • Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap
  • JUS286-2-A (10 ECTS)
  • AORG216 (10 ECTS)
  • SAMPOL218 (10 ECTS)
  • SAMPOL326 (10 ECTS)
  • SAMPOL341 (10 ECTS) (spring 2014)
  • Access to the Course

    Enrollment is limited to a maximum of 40 students. Students will normally not be admitted unless they have completed 90 ECTS.

    Class registration in Studentweb is application for admission. Deadline: Sunday Week 2.

    Teaching and learning methods
    Lectures/ Seminars
    Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
  • Participation in group presentation
  • Two reflection notes
  • The approval of compulsory requirments has no time limit.

    Forms of Assessment

    Take home exam, 3 days, maximum 3000 words, excluding the title page, table of contents, references, tables, and attachments.

    The exam will be given in the language in which the course is taught.
    The exam answer can be submitted in Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish. It is also possible to submit in English.

    Grading Scale
    Graded A-F  
    Assessment Semester

    Assessment in teaching semester

    A retake exam is arranged for students with valid absence according to § 5-5 in the UiB regulations.

    If there is a retake exam, this will be available for students with the follow results/absences:

    • Medical certificate/valid absence
    • Interruption during the exam
    • Fail/failed

    If you have the right to take a retake exam and a retake exam is arranged for students with valid absences, you can sign up yourself in Studentweb after 1. august.

    Reading List
    The reading list will be ready before 1 July for the autumn semester and 1 December for the spring semester. 
    Course Evaluation
    All courses are evaluated according to UiB's system for quality assurance of education.
    Programme Committee
    The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and courses.  
    Course Administrator
    The Department of Government at the Faculty of Social Sciences has the administrative responsibility for the course and the study programme.