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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Prof. Dr. Anna-Bettina Kaiser


Block seminar: Executives and Emergencies: Normative, Legal, and Empirical Transatlantic Perspectives (English)

Prof. Dr. Anna-Bettina Kaiser (HU, Law Faculty), Prof. Dr. Jan-Werner Müller (Princeton), Prof. Dr. Silvia von Steinsdorff (HU, Political Science)

Course catalogue: 10625

It is frequently asserted that emergencies are best addressed by powerful executives: the latter are said to be able to act faster, to have more information, and also to exhibit what American observers, following Hamilton, sometimes call "institutional energy". There is also the view that executives might have to suspend normal legal provisions and either adhere to special rules designed for an exception or operate in a legal vacuum (with the proviso that they will eventually be held accountable for their conduct). The challenges posed by such understandings of emergencies and exceptions to theories of liberal democracy has been debated extensively with respect to the "global war on terror"; the 2020 pandemic has prompted new questions as to what happens to the separation of powers and fundamental rights when executives address a health emergency (and more, specifically, how much power legislatures can legitimately delegate to the executive); less obviously, there has also been the concern that executive failure might amount to a violation of a fundamental right to health. As with other emergencies, there is, finally, the question whether it is institutional checks, or more informal political ones that ultimately prevent executive overreach (or underreach, for the matter).

The course sits at the intersection of political theory, comparative constitutional law, and comparative politics. It will examine important transatlantic differences in how the separation of powers and fundamental rights are understood in "exceptional times"; and who is responsible and accountable in systems of multi-level governance; moreover, it will, from a normative and empirical point, study conceptions of a "post-Madisonian" executive as the critiques of such conceptions that have been offered in the past two decades or so. The course will also examine the actual empirical track record of different types of executives when it comes to addressing emergencies.

Readings and Topics:

Please find the relevant literature here. Please notice: For HU Law Faculty participants only the underlined titles are relevant, the other titles may be read in case of deeper interest. Most of the literature can already be found in the corresponding moodle course. There will also be a reader which may be obtained at the secretary's office from the beginning of May.


A preliminary meeting will take place on May 7, 2021 at 3 p.m. via Zoom. The Zoom link will be made available via moodle.

The interdisciplinary and international block course will take place on 18, 19, and 20 June 2021 (3 p.m. until 6 p.m.). The course will be held in English. If interested, please register for the seminar now. Your presentations shall be made available as podcasts. The presentations will be further discussed at the preliminary meeting on May 7, 2021. Find the the possible presenation topics here.

Please send your topic request (3 options) to kaiser@rewi.hu-berlin.de as soon as possible.

Colloquium: Public Law and Theory

The colloquium takes part every other week on Wednesdays at 6 pm.

For questions or enrollment, please contact sekretariat.kaiser@rewi.hu-berlin.de.