Federal Constitutional Court press release/Bundesverfassungsgericht Pressemitteilung

Beschluss vom Bundesverfassungsgericht vom 2. April 2004, zu Ebenbürtigkeitsklausel und Eheschließungsfreiheit (RSS-Newsfeed hier).

It’s interesting what cases sometimes come up in court. The press releases of the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) now have a newsfeed. This press release (German) is dated April 2nd and relates to a decision of March 22nd. It’s a Beschluss, which means a judgment that was passed without oral argument.

Kaiser Wilhelm II died in 1941. His eldest son, Crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, died in 1951. We’ll call him the deceased (Erblasser) or W. He could be called testator, since he had a will, but the case relates not to the will but to an earlier testamentary disposition (letztwillige Verfügung), a contract of inheritance (Erbvertrag). German law still has these: for example, if a parent wants a particular child to take over the business, a contract can be made while the parent is still alive, indeed often long before the parent is likely to die, guaranteeing funds and to this extent preempting some of the rights of the other heirs.

In 1938, W entered into a contract of inheritance with his second-eldest son, Prinz Louis Ferdinand (just L.F. in the press release!), who died in 1994. This contract provided that the eldest son would continue to be the heir, but only if his marriage was suitable (Ebenbürtigkeitsklausel: equal ranking clause).

The complainant is not named, but he must be Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (FW). He was LF’s eldest son and he applied for a certificate of inheritance (Erbschein – the equivalent to taking out probate) stating that he was the heir to the title. He regarded the equal ranking clause as contrary to public policy (sittenwidrig). It restricted his right to marry to a few aristocratic Protestant women, who themselves had to have been born to marriages that complied with the constitution of the house of Brandenburg-Prussia (Hausverfassung).Reading the family history can be confusing:

bq. Louis-Ferdinand’s dynastic heir was his third son and namesake, Prince Louis-Ferdinand, born in 1944. He married Countess Donata of Castell-Rudenhausen, a daughter of Siegfried, Fourth Prince of Castell-Rudenhausen, in 1975. The couple had two children, Prince Georg-Friedrich and Princess Cornelia-Cecilia. Prince Louis-Ferdinand II was a reserve officer, he died unexpectedly in 1977 during military maneuvers. In 1991, Donata remarried to Duke Friedrich of Oldenburg, her sister-in-law’s ex-husband. Prince Georg-Friedrich became the head of the Prussian imperial family upon his grandfather’s death in 1994.

The Federal Constitutional Court found in favour of FW. The case started at the Landgericht (Regional Court) in Hechingen (Burg Hohenzollern being there) and thence went to the Oberlandesgericht (Regional Court of Appeal) in Stuttgart and the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof). The Federal Constitutional Court weighed the testamentary freedom of W, who did not have to treat his descendants equally nor arrange the succession in a way acceptable to the general public, against FW’s freedom to marry a partner he chose himself. The equal ranking clause may indirectly influence W in his freedom to marry.

More information in German.

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