Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger

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Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger
File:Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (Berlin Film Festival 2011).jpg
Federal Minister of Justice
In office
28 October 2009 – 17 December 2013
Chancellor Angela Merkel
Preceded by Brigitte Zypries
Succeeded by Heiko Maas
In office
18 May 1992 – 17 January 1996
Chancellor Helmut Kohl
Preceded by Klaus Kinkel
Succeeded by Edzard Schmidt-Jortzig
Member of the Bundestag
In office
1990 – 2013
Personal details
Born (1951-07-26) 26 July 1951 (age 70)
Minden, West Germany
(now Germany)
Political party Free Democratic Party
Alma mater University of Göttingen
Bielefeld University
Website Official website

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger [zaˈbiːnə ˈlɔʏthɔʏsɐ ˈʃnaʀənˌbɛɐ̯ɡɐ] (born 26 July 1951) is a German politician of the liberal Free Democratic Party and a prominent advocate of human rights in Germany and Europe.[1] Within the FDP, she is a leading figure of the social-liberal wing. She served as Federal Minister of Justice of Germany from 1992 to 1996 in the cabinet of Helmut Kohl and again in the second Merkel cabinet from 2009 to 2013. In 2013, the new German government announced Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger’s candidacy for the office of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.[2][3]

Early life and work

She was born in Minden, North Rhine-Westphalia. After graduating from gymnasium in Minden in 1970, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger started studying law in Göttingen and Bielefeld. In 1975 she passed the first state exam in Hamm, in 1978 the second state exam in Düsseldorf.

From 1979 to 1990 she worked at the Deutsches Patent- und Markenamt in Munich. When she left the organization she was a managing director.

In addition to her mandate as a member of the German parliament (Bundestag), she has been working as a lawyer in Munich since 1997.

Political career

In 1978 Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger became a member of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). Since 1991 she has been a member of federal board of the FDP.

Member of the Bundestag and Federal Minister of Justice, 1992 – 1996

From 12 December 1990 Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was a member of the German Bundestag. On 18 May 1992 she was sworn in as Federal Minister of Justice of Germany, following the nomination of incumbent Klaus Kinkel as Foreign Minister in the government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Upon taking office, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger pushed for police receiving new training and equipment to counter extremism and tougher court sentences for those found guilty of extremist violence.[4] In 1994, she publicly condemned a regional court for adulating radical rightist leader Günter Deckert after handing him a light sentence for Holocaust denial, calling the judges’ decision "a slap in the face to all victims of the Holocaust".[5] When Denmark agreed to extradite Gary Lauck, an American neo-Nazi charged with being the main supplier of illegal fascist propaganda to Germany, to German authorities in 1995, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called the decision a "great victory against right-wing extremism."[6]

In 1995 there was a broad public discussion in Germany about the invulnerability of the private domain by means of acoustic observation (Großer Lauschangriff, literally "big eavesdropping attack").[7] In this argument Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger strongly objected to expanding the state's right to interfere in citizens' private domain. After the members of the FDP decided in a poll to support the conservative lead of the CDU in this matter, she resigned from her office on 1 January 1996.[8]

From May 1997 Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was a member of the Steering Committee of the FDP ("Präsidium"). On 2 December 2000 she also became FDP chairwoman for the Federal State of Bavaria. She served twice as Deputy Chairwoman of the FDP parliamentary group, from 2 February 2001 to 2 October 2002 and from 27 September 2005 until 28 October 2009.

Member of the Bundestag and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 1996 – 2009

Following her time in government, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger sharpened her profile as deputy parliamentary leader of the FDP and high-profile civil rights campaigner.[9] From 1999 to 2000 she was a member of an international inquiry commission of the United Nations to examine allegations of human rights violations in East Timor and submitted its report to secretary general Kofi Annan.[10]

During the 16th Legislative Term of the Bundestag between 2005 and 2009, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was spokeswoman on legal policy for the FDP parliamentary group, chairwoman of the FDP in the parliamentary committee on legal affairs and alternate member in the parliamentary committee on human rights and humanitarian aid. From 2009, she also served on the parliamentary body in charge of selecting the judges of the Highest Courts of Justice, namely the Federal Court of Justice (BGH), the Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG), the Federal Fiscal Court (BFH), the Federal Labour Court (BAG), and the Federal Social Court (BSG).

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was also active in the Council of Europe. From 2003 to 2009 she was member of the German delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. As member of the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, she conducted an investigative trip to Russia and authored a critical report on the country's judicial system.[11] In 2008, she presented a report to the Parliamentary Assembly on the investigation of the Gongadze case and other crimes of the Kuchma era in Ukraine. Titled Allegations of Politically Motivated Abuses of the Criminal Justice System in Council of Europe Member States, her 2009 report examined alleged abuses in Britain, Germany, France, and Russia.[12] Much of the document focused on Russia, detailing several recent cases that "give rise to concerns that the fight against 'legal nihilism' launched by President Medvedev is still far from won."[13] During an April 2009 visit to Ukraine, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, co-rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, cautiously encouraged reform of the parliamentary system in Ukraine. She also expressed regret that those who ordered Georgiy Gongadze's murder had still not been brought to justice.[14]

In 2008, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger – in her role as chairwoman of the FDP in Bavaria – successfully ran the party’s election campaign in the Bavarian state elections that year, where the FDP reentered the state parliament after 14 years of absence.[15]

Federal Minister of Justice, 2009 – 2013

Between 2009 and 2013, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger served as Federal Minister of Justice again, this time in the second Merkel cabinet. Alongside four men, she was the only female FDP member in Merkel's cabinet[16] and the only FDP member of the cabinet to have previously held government office.[17] During her time in office, she would often push the FDP’s pro-civil liberties agenda, but frequently encountered resistance from a conservatives-controlled interior ministry led by Thomas de Maizière and later Hans-Peter Friedrich.[18]

In 2010, former president of the Federal Constitutional Court Jutta Limbach in an interview proposed that Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger be made a judge at the court, praising her "intellectual honesty";[19] instead, Andreas Voßkuhle was nominated by the SPD.

In 2011, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger became one of the first prominent Free Democratic politicians to suggest a change in the party's top leadership. She recommended that the incumbent Guido Westerwelle be replaced by Christian Lindner, then the party’s general secretary.[20]

Candidacy for Secretary General of the Council of Europe, 2013 – 2014

In 2013, the new German government announced Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger’s candidacy for the office of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.[21][22] From December 2013, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger visited more than 20 member states.

In the first round of the election on 24 June 2014, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger lost against incumbent Thorbjørn Jagland who obtained an absolute majority.[23]

Current activities

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger continues to be a frequent commentator on human rights and data protection in German media. In 2014, she was appointed to an advisory council established by Google on implementing the right to be forgotten.[24]

Political views

On crime and prosecutions

Soon after taking office in 2009, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger demanded that US courts could not seek the death penalty for terrorists Zacarias Moussaoui and Ramzi Binalshibh in return for receiving evidence provided by German investigators. In order to verify that the US government keeps its word, she teamed up with the Foreign Ministry to send German observers to monitor the trial in New York.[25][26]

Under legislation introduced by Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger following a wave of revelations about Catholic priest abusing minors in 2011, Germans who were sexually abused as children today have as long as 30 years after they turn 21 to bring accusations in court; the previous statute of limitations on civil abuse cases was three years.[27] The minister also urged the church to compensate victims and participate in a “round table” with their representatives.[28]

On data protection

In 2010, talking about issues like privacy and copyright, she complained about Google's instinct for "pressing ahead" and its "megalomania".[29] That same year, she asked Apple Inc. to tell state data protection officials about the kind of data the company was gathering on individual iPhone users in Germany.[30] In a case Leutheusser herself brought to the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, the judges eventually rejected a core piece of security legislation that requires data on telephone calls and e-mail traffic to be stored for up to six months for possible use by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.[31] As part of the draft of a law governing workplace privacy, she proposed placing restrictions on employers who want to use Facebook profiles when recruiting.[32] She also expressed her support for legislation that would punish officials who purchase illegally obtained data of German tax evaders in Switzerland.[33]

In response to the 2013 mass surveillance scandal, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, in a guest editorial for the Web site Spiegel Online, called the revelations about the U.S. surveillance “deeply disconcerting” and possibly “dangerous.”[34] A week before President Barack Obama's visit to Berlin in June 2013, she rejected Obama’s earlier statement that “you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.”[35] In her commentary she wrote: “I don’t share this assessment. A society is less free the more intensively its citizens are watched, controlled and observed. Security is not an end in itself in a democratic society, but rather serves the security of freedom.” [36]

Shortly after, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger sent two letters to the British justice secretary, Chris Grayling, and the home secretary, Theresa May, stressing the widespread concern the disclosures about the GCHQ Tempora programme triggered in Germany and demanding to know the extent to which German citizens have been targeted.[37] At the same time, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger demanded that the German intelligence service BND provide a full explanation after it admitted to passing on massive amounts of so-called "metadata" to the NSA.[38] When the United States approached E.U. justice ministers in October 2013 about signing an agreement to extradite former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to the U.S. should he set foot on their soil, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger refused to sign because she was not certain that Snowden had broken any laws and because he might make a good witness in a German parliamentary inquiry.[39]

On LGBT rights

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger long sought to make LGBT rights in Germany a key plank in the Free Democrats' platform.[40] In 2012, she had her office prepare a "draft of a law to revise the rights of domestic partners," which would have put gays and lesbians on equal footing with married couples in all conceivable spheres of life, including adoption.[41] When the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany ruled in 2013 ruled that excluding same-sex couples from a tax benefit available for married partners is unconstitutional and said the government must retroactively change the 12-year-old legislation, she pressed for legislative action.[42] Again, after the court decided that gays and lesbians should be allowed to adopt children already adopted by their partners, the minister argued that “[t]he decision to put civil unions and marriage on level footing needs a big push”; however, her party’s efforts failed due to opposing views of her conservative coalition partner.[43]

On rule of law in Russia

After a Russian court found deceased lawyer Sergei Magnitsky guilty of tax evasion in 2013, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger condemned the posthumous verdict, saying on Twitter: “The conviction of the dead Magnitsky is further evidence of the Sovietization of Russia.” A presidential human rights commission headed by former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev had found in 2011 that the charges against the lawyer had been fabricated.[44]

With regard to the Russian LGBT propaganda law introduced in 2013, she commented in Welt am Sonntag that "Russia is taking another big step towards becoming a flawless dictatorship in ostracizing homosexuals."[45] Unlike German chancellor Angela Merkel and foreign minister Guido Westerwelle at the time, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger later suggested that the newly enacted law, which discriminates against gays and lesbians, could be grounds for boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics.[46]

On 3 March 2015, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger attended the funeral of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov, who had been shot and killed on 27 February 2015.[47]

On the fight against terrorism

After then-Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble confirmed in late 2005 that, under the previous government led by Gerhard Schröder, German agents had interviewed Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger condemned these methods: "If you're not allowed to torture, then you're not allowed to profit from information that may have been obtained through kidnapping and torture."[48]

During a domestic debate on anti-terrorism legislation, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger in 2010 warned that passenger profiling in German airports where passengers are categorized as high or low risk based on, among other things, their ethnic background, might fall foul of German and European law.[49]

On arms exports

In the Federal Security Council (Bundessicherheitsrat), Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was one of the most vocal critics of German arms exports to Saudi Arabia. In 2011, she initially opposed Merkel when the Council discussed Saudi Arabia's request for up to 270 Leopard 2 tanks, but then she deferred to the cabinet's decision. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger did not attend a Council meeting in December 2012 when the ministers voted on the purchase of a few hundred "Boxer" armed transport vehicles.[50]

On European integration

During the 2012–13 Cypriot financial crisis, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger broke new ground by calling directly on European Union leaders to do more to defend Germany’s role in helping the weaker Eurozone members.[51] She noted that although all Eurozone member countries were involved in deciding on aid packages when a country applied for help, Germany always ended up as the target of anger.[52]

On Vergangenheitsbewältigung of German Nazi past

By the late 1980s seven Austrian Jewish citizens had received "very small symbolic compensation" from the East German Government for eight real estate properties Nazi and Communist Germany had expropriated in 1938 and in 1948. After meeting with the Claims Conference and with one of the attorney's of one of the citizens in the early 1990s, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger personally refused to return the properties, even though Chancellor Konrad Adenauer had vowed that post war Germany would never enrich itself from any Jewish owned assets that had been expropriated previously by Nazi Germany.[citation needed] In the 2012 Munich artworks discovery, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger refused to retroactively extend the statute of limitations in order to prosecute Cornelius Gurlitt, the 80-year-old who hoarded artworks for half a century, urging him instead to acknowledge he has “moral as well as legal obligations.”[53]

Other activities

  • Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, Member of the Board of Trustees
  • Theodor Heuss Foundation, Member of the Executive Committee
  • Gegen Vergessen – Für Demokratie, Member
  • Dunkelziffer e.V. – Hilfe für sexuell missbrauchte Kinder (Help against Child Abuse), Patron
  • German Association for the Protection of Children (DKSB), Member
  • Weißer Ring e.V. (Support for victims and crime prevention), Member
  • Sebastian Cobler Foundation for Civil Rights, Member of the Board of Trustees
  • Pro Justitia Foundation (Promoting Research in the field of Law), Member of the Advisory Board
  • Humanist Union Bavaria, Member
  • Gothaer Kulturstiftung, Member of the Advisory Board (2002-2005)
  • Global Panel Foundation, Member of the Advisory Board


Personal life

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger lives in Feldafing. She is widowed, after her husband, Ernst Schnarrenberger, died in 2006. Her father, Dr. Horst Leutheusser, was also a lawyer, and deputy mayor of Minden as member of the CDU. Her uncle, Wolfgang Stammberger, was one of her predecessors as minister of justice (from 1961 to 1962).

Publications (selection)

  • "Gegenkurs. Plädoyer für eine selbstbewusste Politik der Freiheit" (96).
  • Zwischen Einbürgerung und politischer Partizipation 'ausländischer Mitbürger'. Welchen Spielraum gewährt der demokratische Rechtsstaat in Deutschland? In: Büttner, Christian / Meyer, Berthold (eds.): Integration durch Partizipation. 'Ausländische Mitbürger' in demokratischen Gesellschaften. Campus Publisher 2001, pp. 31–43
  • Vorratsdatenspeicherung – Ein vorprogrammierter Verfassungskonflikt. In: Zeitschrift für Rechtspolitik, 2007, p. 9 ff.
  • Auf dem Weg in den autoritären Staat. In: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, Edition 1/2008, pp. 62–70


  1. Germany’s Justice Minister Hails Three European Courts as “Shining Stars” Columbia Law School, press release of December 2, 2011.
  2. Stefan Braun (November 26, 2013), Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger kandidiert für Posten beim Europarat Süddeutsche Zeitung.
  3. Juncker seen as possible candidate for Council of Europe post EurActiv, July 19, 2013.
  4. Tyler Marshall (November 25, 1992), Bonn Moving to Get Tough on Violence Los Angeles Times.
  5. Marjorie Miller (August 11, 1994), German Court Chastised for Giving Extremist Slap on Wrist Los Angeles Times.
  6. VICTORY IN EUROPE: Denmark Decides to Extradite American Neo-Nazi to Germany Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1995.
  7. Presentation with Germany's Federal Minister of Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, November 3, 2011 Columbia University, New York.
  8.,1185,OID3037054_TYP1_NAVSPM2~3036854_REF1,00.html Zehn Jahre Diskussion um den Großen Lauschangriff (German)
  9. Oliver Samson (August 23, 2006), Striking the Right Balance Between Freedom and Security Deutsche Welle.
  10. UN probes Timor rights abuses BBC News, October 15, 1999.
  11. Erin E. Arvedlund (March 29, 2005), Critics Say a Jailed Yukos Lawyer Is a 'Hostage' New York Times.
  12. Philip Pan (June 24, 2009), European Investigator Alleges Widespread Corruption in Russian Courts Washington Post.
  13. Jason Bush (June 24, 2009), Report Slams Moscow: No Justice for Business in Russia Der Spiegel.
  14. World Report 2009: Ukraine Human Rights Watch.
  15. Cable 09BERLIN1360_a: THE NEW GERMAN CABINET - AN OVERVIEW, October 29, 2009 WikiLeaks.
  16. Marcel Fürstenau (May 3, 2013), Liberal Free Democrats set to launch election offensive Deutsche Welle.
  17. German FDP plumbs new lows after attack on leader Reuters, May 29, 2010.
  18. Chris Bryant (September 28, 2009), FDP leader tipped as foreign minister Financial Times.
  19. Heribert Prantl (May 17, 2010), Interview mit Jutta Limbach: "Weil sie dem Rechtsstaat Ehre macht" Süddeutsche Zeitung.
  20. Judy Dempsey (January 3, 2011), Coalition Partner Becomes Liability for Merkel Government International Herald Tribune.
  21. Stefan Braun (November 26, 2013), Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger kandidiert für Posten beim Europarat Süddeutsche Zeitung.
  22. Juncker seen as possible candidate for Council of Europe post EurActiv, July 19, 2013.
  23. Thorbjørn Jagland re-elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 24 June 2014.
  24. Jemima Kiss (July 11, 2014), Google launches 'advisory council' page on right to be forgotten The Guardian.
  25. John Goetz and Marcel Rosenbach (November 23, 2009), The Death Penalty Problem: 9/11 Trial Puts German-US Relations Under Strain Der Spiegel.
  26. Adam Nichols (November 22, 2009), Germans weasel in on 9/11 trial New York Post.
  27. Germany: Change to Abuse Statute New York Times, March 23, 2011.
  28. Abuse and counterabuse The Economist, March 11, 2010.
  29. Eric Pfanner (February 2, 2010), Europe Looms as Major Battleground for Google New York Times.
  30. Kevin J. O'Brien (June 28, 2010), Germany Asks Apple About iPhone’s Data-Gathering New York Times.
  31. Judy Dempsey (March 2, 20100), German Court Orders Stored Telecom Data Deleted International Herald Tribune.
  32. David Jolly (August 25, 2010), Germany Plans Limits on Facebook Use in Hiring New York Times.
  33. German minister calls for punishing tax CD purchases Deutsche Welle, September 1, 2012.
  34. James Kanter (June 11, 2013), E.U. Official Pushes U.S. to Explain Its Surveillance New York Times.
  35. Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland (June 7, 2013), Obama defends surveillance effort as 'trade-off' for security Reuters.
  36. Patrick Donahue (June 12, 2013), German Justice Minister Demands U.S. Explanation on Surveillance Bloomberg.
  37. Alan Travis, Kate Connolly and Nicholas Watt (June 26, 2013), [1] The Guardian.
  38. German justice minister demands answers about BND's role in NSA snooping Deutsche Welle, August 5, 2013.
  39. Alan Travis, Kate Connolly and Nicholas Watt (June 26, 2013), NSA denials are ‘implausible,’ France says Washington Post.
  40. David Crawford and Vanessa Fuhrmans (22 August 2012), Gay-Rights Bill Highlights German Coalition Split Wall Street Journal.
  41. Melanie Amann, Dietmar Hipp and Peter Müller (June 11, 2013), Vater and Vater: Gay Adoption Debate Flusters Conservatives Der Spiegel.
  42. Stefan Nicola (June 6, 2013), German Constitution Court Backs Equal Tax Rights for Gay Couples Bloomberg.
  43. Karen DeYoung and Michael Birnbaum (31 October 2013), Gay Rights Emerge as Campaign Issue in Germany New York Times.
  44. Courtney Weaver and Charles Clover (July 11, 2013), Russia convicts Magnitsky of tax evasion in posthumous trial Financial Times.
  45. Andreas Rinke (August 12, 2013), [2] Reuters.
  46. Kristen Allen (August 19, 2013), Anti-Gay Law: Shunning Sochi Hurts Olympians, Merkel Says Der Spiegel.
  47. Severin Weiland (March 2, 2015), Ermordeter Nemzow: EU-Botschafter nehmen an Trauerfeier teil Spiegel Online.
  48. David Crossland (December 20, 2005), Letter from Berlin: Germany Talks Torture, and Finds Hypocrisy Der Spiegel.
  49. Row over German airport profile bid Al Jazeera, December 29, 2010.
  50. German Weapons for the World: How the Merkel Doctrine Is Changing Berlin Policy Der Spiegel, December 3, 2012.
  51. Melissa Eddy (March 27, 2013), Cypriots’ Criticism of Bailout Rattles Nerves and Raises Ire in Germany New York Times.
  52. Melissa Eddy (March 27, 2013), Cypriots’ Criticism of Bailout Rattles Nerves and Raises Ire in Germany New York Times.
  53. Alex Webb (November 21, 2013), Germany Can’t Extend Art Theft Statute, Minister Says Bloomberg.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Klaus Kinkel
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Edzard Schmidt-Jortzig
Preceded by
Brigitte Zypries
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Heiko Maas