According to the constitution, approved by the Weimar National Assembly and promulgated on 11 August 1919, the German Reich is a republic, in which sovereignty emanates from the people. The designation of Reich, which, after the end of the Holy Roman Empire, no longer existed in Germanic public law until the proclamation of the German Empire (Deutsches Reich) in 1871, does not have an exact equivalent in Italian: however it implies, in a certain way, the concept of a monarchical state and therefore its maintenance in the republican constitution has caused some surprise and some suspicion. The territory of the Reich consists of the territories of the German countries, as they are a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles; but other territories can be admitted if the population requests them, making use of the right of self-determination: this last provision can, among other things, open the way to the union of Austria when there are no more obstacles deriving from questions of international politics.
The Weimar constitution substantially changed the internal ordering of Germany, not only because it introduced the parliamentary regime, but also because it considerably transformed, towards unification, the relations between the Reich and its parts. The old Germanic Confederation had already almost become a federal state through the constitution of the North German Confederation: the unification had then become complete as a result of the proclamation of the empire. However, its various parts still retained the official designation of states and the relations between these and the Reich were governed with greater autonomy than the former.
In the Weimar constitution, what were the states are called only “countries” (Länder) and the prevalence of the Reich is accentuated very considerably. The right of individual countries to organize themselves is very restricted. Every country must have a liberal constitution. By virtue of this constitution, both the popular representation of each individual country and the municipal councils must be elected by universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage by all citizens (men and women) on the basis of proportional representation. The government of the country must enjoy the trust of popular representation.
The legislative competence of the Reich is absolutely predominant. The constitution establishes the principle that the legislative power of the Reich prevails over that of the countries (Reichsrecht bricht Landrecht) and, in practice it can be said that the Reich has the right to extend its legislation as far as it wants: the laws existing in the individual states forgive without Their effectiveness is different if a law is enacted by the Reich on the same matter to which they refer.
The Reich has exclusive legislative power over: 1. international relations; 2. colonial affairs; 3. citizenship, emigration, immigration and extradition; 4. military systems; 5. the monetary system; 6. the customs procedure; 7. post offices, telegraphs and telephones. The Reich also has legislative precedence (so-called concurrent legislation) on: 1. civil law; 2. criminal law; 3. procedural law; 4. foreigners’ passports and police; 5. charity; 6. the press, meetings and associations; 7. demographic policy; 8. hygiene and veterinary medicine; 9. work and workers’ insurance; 10. professional representatives; 11. assistance to combatants and their heirs; 12. expropriation; 13. natural wealth and economic ventures; 14. trade, weights and measures, the issuance of paper money, banks and stock exchanges; 15. the trafficking of foodstuffs; 16. industries and mines; 17. insurance; 18. maritime navigation; 19. railways, inland waterways, truck traffic, aviation, road construction as far as general traffic and national defense are concerned; 20. theaters and cinemas. The Reich also has the legislative power: 1. over taxes, as regards its duties; 2. on social assistance and the protection of public order and security, as it is necessary to establish uniform rules. The Reich can issue the fundamental legislative principles concerning: 1. the rights and duties of religious associations; 2. schools; 3. the rights of employees of public corporations; 4. landed property; 5. the cemeteries. The Reich has the power to establish principles concerning the taxes of countries in order to prevent what may harm the general interests. Apart from matters for which the Reich has exclusive legislative power, countries retain theirs until the Reich makes use of its own. The organs of the Reich are four: the Diet,
The Diet (Reichstag). – It is made up of deputies who have reached the age of 25 and have held German citizenship for at least one year. He is elected for 4 years by universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage by all citizens who have reached the age of 20. The electoral law of March 6, 1924 establishes that you vote on party lists and that for every 60,000 votes cast there is a deputy. During the sessions, deputies cannot be subjected to criminal proceedings or arrested without the authorization of the assembly. The sessions are public; but at the request of 50 members representing a majority of 2 / 3 the Assembly may decide that they are secret. The Reichstag can decide with the preseriza of half plus one of its members; but the presence of2 / 3 is required for modification of the constitution and to bring charges against the President or the Reich ministers. Decisions are made by simple majority; but the majority of 2 / 3 is required for the modification of the constitution, to bring charges against the president or ministers, to cause a plebiscite about the removal of President. The Reichstag has legislative power for the Reich; it can appoint commissions of inquiry; establishes a standing commission for foreign affairs and other commissions.
The Reich Council (Reichsrat). – Represents the countries with regard to the legislation and administration of the Reich. It took the place of the Federal Council (Bundesrat) of the previous constitution, but its political importance is less and its powers are more limited. Each country has at least one seat: the more they differ in proportion to the number of voters, but no one can have more than 2 / 5of the total. After each census, the Reichsrat determines the number of seats. According to that of 1925 they were 66 (Prussia 26; Bavaria 10; Saxony 7; Württemberg 4; Baden 3; Thuringia, Hesse and Hamburg 2 each; the others 1 each). Countries are represented in the assembly by their respective governments; but half of the Prussian delegates are designated by the provincial administration of that country. Both the assembly and its commissions are chaired by a member of the Reich government. The sessions are usually public. Decisions are taken by simple majority, just to change the constitution must be that of 2 / 3. The Reichsrat can take the initiative in bills, but must have them presented to the Reichstag through the Reich government. It expresses its vote on the government’s bills, but, if it is negative, it does not drop them: the government can present them equally to the Reichstag, however communicating the Reichsrat vote against. Against the laws passed by the Reichstag, the Reichsrat has only a suspensive power. If the Reichstag confirms its decision by simple majority, the president of the Reich can either drop the bill or provoke a popular referendum (Volksentscheid); if confirmed by a majority of 2/8, the president must either promulgate the law or provoke a referendum. For changes to the constitution, the Reichsrat itself can ask for a referendum.
The president (Reichspräsident). – He is directly elected by the German people. All Germans (men and women) who have reached the age of 35 are eligible. In order for the election to be valid on the first ballot, a candidate must obtain an absolute majority of votes: otherwise a new vote is held, in which the one who receives the relative majority is elected. The president’s powers last seven years, but re-elections are allowed. Before the expiry of the term constitution, the president can be ousted by a popular vote, caused by the Reichstag: the decision of the Reichstag, which is to be taken by a majority of 2 / 3, suspends the president from exercising his functions. The popular vote, if it rejects the proposed dismissal, is considered as a new election of the president and, after it, the Reichstag must be dissolved. The Reichstag can also impeach the President before the State Court (Staatsgerichthof) for violation of the constitution or a law of the Reich. Before entering the office, the president takes an oath before the Reichstag. He is criminally liable, but can only be tried with the authorization of the Reichstag. In the event of a brief impediment, the president is replaced by the chancellor: if the impediment lasts longer, or until the new election if the presidency remains vacant before the expiry, it is provided with a law of the Reich. The rights of the president are more extensive than those of the president of the French Republic, but they can only be exercised through the responsible government, which must enjoy the trust of the Reichstag: therefore, in reality, they are always very limited and cannot be compared with those of the president of the United States. The president cannot declare war or conclude peace; but it can make declarations of neutrality and take defensive measures in case of aggression. He has the supreme command of the armed forces of the Reich and the right of pardon, while amnesties are the responsibility of the legislative power. If a country fails to fulfill its obligations under the constitution or a Reich law, the president can force it to do so with the help of the armed forces. The president can take the necessary measures to restore security and order when they are considerably disturbed or threatened, and for this purpose he can either use the armed forces or temporarily suspend all or part of the fundamental rights of citizens: however, he is obliged to inform the Reichstag of the measures taken and to revoke them at its request. The president must sanction and promulgate constitutionally approved laws, but may, if he deems it appropriate, subject them in advance topopular referendum. He can dissolve the Reichstag, but not more than once for the same reason, and he can ask for it to be convened in advance.
The government (Reichsregierung). – It is made up of the chancellor and the ministers, who must enjoy the confidence of the Reichstag: if this fails, each of them must resign. The president appoints the chancellor and, upon his proposal, the ministers. The chancellor is the head of the government and establishes the directives of the policy, for which he is responsible before the Reichstag. Government members can be indicted before the state court in the same way as the president. The government has the right of legislative initiative and the right of oversight over countries for matters for which the Reich has legislative power. In addition to the cases cited, it must reach an referenda popular: 1. when 1 / 20of registered voters request it (Volksbegehren) about a bill, already passed by the Reichstag, whose enactment has been suspended at the request of 1 / 3 of the deputies; 2. when 1 / 10 of registered voters so requires about a bill submitted to the Reichstag, provided the latter do not approve it without amendments; 3. when the president requests it regarding budgetary or tax laws.
The Reich has exclusive administration with regard to foreign affairs, defense, colonies, the customs regime, the media. For the rest, the execution of the laws of the Reich is entrusted to the authorities of the various countries.
A special provision of the constitution states that foreign-language peoples of the Reich cannot, either by legislative or administrative means, be hindered in their free popular development, especially in the use of their language for education, administration. internal and before justice.