Constitutions, Courts and Politics - Bachelor

Undergraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

Political scientists are traditionally ambivalent towards constitutions, regarding them as a poor map to a country¿s political life. However, while the text itself might seem misleading to the lay reader, constitutions are rarely pure fiction. As the legal basis of all modern states, constitutions shape politics in numerous ways. Not least in times of crisis, the making and changing of constitutions are often at the heart of the struggle, and important tools for creating the basis for a common future.

This course aims to shed light on how constitutions shape and are shaped by politics, with a particular focus on the Norwegian constitution (Grunnloven) of 1814, which is the second oldest written constitution still in force, although significantly revised in May 2014, for the bicentenary celebration. The students will be introduced to Norwegian Constitutional law, its foundations, the political processes in which it is embedded, and current challenges all in a comparative context. The course is an interdisciplinary project between the Faculty of Social Sciences, department of Comparative Politics 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 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. The student will get an overview of the research literature on the Norwegian constitution, and the relationship between rule of law and democracy in Norway and compared with 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, and in Norway the written constitution plays an important role and will serve as a fulcrum for the discussions in the course. The executive power is vested with the King and the government, the legislative power lies in the parliament, while the judicative power is conferred to a single court system, with the Supreme Court in Oslo. A special feature in Norway has been to amend its old 1814 constitution instead of adopting a new one as society and the political system evolve. Since 1814, the constitution has been amended more than 300 times. Yet even after the linguistic overhaul and the modernization of the protection of human rights in 2014, the constitution contains many traces of its 19th century origins. Due to its old age and its many amendments, the Norwegian constitution requires careful interpretation. Another particularity is the historically strong position of customary law. The question is then how these features of Norwegian constitutional law fits with those we find in other jurisdictions.

The course will give an introduction to the principles and the architecture of three bodies of the state, and the checks and balances between them. Historically, the struggle for constitutional power was between the King and the parliament, where the latter in the end prevailed. An ongoing constitutional discussion is related to juridification and judicialization and issues of accountability. Contentious political issues regularly end up in court as constitutional challenges, in Norway, and even more in other countries. The course discusses different perspectives on the constitution as a tool for social change and an arena for politics. 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 EU). Another constitutional development relates to the growth of different forms of accountability mechanism, like the different ombudsmen and the strengthened position of the Office of the Auditor General. Norway added a new National Institution for Human Rights in 2015.

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 focusing on reforms and changes in the relationships between the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches of government. As previously stated, the Norwegian constitution will be put in perspective by using examples from other jurisdictions when appropriate, and the literature covers different models of constitution-making.

The course also provides opportunities to meet practitioners engaged in bringing the constitution to bear on politics and practice: in the courts and other accountability mechanisms.

Learning Outcomes


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


Place of Instruction

Faculty of Law, University of Bergen
Required Previous Knowledge
Two years of law studies.
Recommended Previous Knowledge
Good level of English language.
Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap

Combined with JUS286-2-A Constitution, courts and politics, AORG216 Constitution, courts and politics, or GOV216 Constitution, courts and politics this course will generate no new credits.

The course has partly the same themes as JUS281-2-A Comparative Constitutional Law and JUS2317/JUS3517 Comparative Euorpean Constitutional Law, but the overlap is limited and will hence not lead to credit reduction. In the above mentioned courses, the Norwegian Constitution is one of several constitutions included as object of comparison, while on this course the Norwegian constitution is the main object. Approaches are also different as this course draws on both legal and social perspectives.

The course has points in common with JUS121 Norwegian and international legal institutions and JUS221 The rule of law, but these courses give a short introduction to the Norwegian Constitution and tasks between states. The points in common are limited and will hence not lead to credit reduction.

The course combines well with

JUS2317/JUS3517 Comparative European Constitutional Law

JUS2313/JUS3513 Human Rights and Welfare Policies

JUS2322/JUS3522 Health and Human Rights in the Welfare State

JUS2307 Introduction to European Human Rights

JUS2311/JUS3511 International Climate Law

Access to the Course

The course is available for the following students:

  • Admitted to the five-year master programme in law
  • Exchange students at the Faculty of Law

The pre-requirements may still limit certain students' access to the course.

Teaching and learning methods
Lectures and seminars.
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
  • Group presentation
  • Two reflection notes
  • Compulsory attendance at lectures/seminars.

    Forms of Assessment

    Home exam.

    Exam only in semesters with teaching.

    Information about digital examination can be found here:

    Exam language:

    • Question paper: English
    • Answer paper: English
    Grading Scale
    A - E for passed, F for failed.
    Assessment Semester
    Reading List
    The reading list will be ready 1 December for the spring semester.
    Course Evaluation
    According to the administrative arrangements for course evaluation at the Faculty of Law.
    Examination Support Material
    Not relevant.
    Programme Committee
    The Academic Affairs Committee (Studieutvalget) at the Faculty of Law is responsible for ensuring the material content, structure and quality of the course.
    Course Coordinator
    Professor Eirik Holmøyvik
    Course Administrator
    The Faculty of Law¿s section for students and academic affairs (Studieseksjonen) is responsible for administering the programme.