Dr. Brigitte Bierlein, born on June 25th, 1949 in Vienna. She studied law at the University of Vienna, doctorate (Dr.iur.) in 1971; judge’s exam in 1975, afterwards judge at the District Court Innere Stadt and District Tribunal (“Strafbezirksgericht”) Vienna; prosecutor at the Public Prosecutor’s Office Vienna from 1977 onwards (general and political criminal cases, media criminal cases; member of the Austrian Codex Commission (“Lebensmittel-Codexkommission”) from 1977 to 1979; 1986 Offices of Senior Public Prosecutors Vienna (“Oberstaatsanwaltschaft Wien”); Department for Criminal Law at the Ministry of Justice in 1987, then again Senior Public Prosecutor’s Office in Vienna; advocate general at the General Procurator’s Office (“Generalprokuratur”) at the Supreme Court from 1990 to 2002; member of the board of examiners for judges and prosecutors at the Higher Regional Court of Vienna between 1990 and 2010; member of the executive board of the Association of Austrian Prosecutors (“Vereinigung Österreichischer Staatsanwältinnen und Staatsanwälte”) since 1995, President from 2001 to 2003; member of the executive board of the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP) from 2001 to 2004.
Vice-President of the Constitutional Court from 1 January 2003 to 22 February 2018. President since 23 February 2018.
Bierlein originally wanted to study either art or architecture and came close to joining the University of Applied Arts. She ultimately chose to study law instead, partly on the advice of her mother and partly because she did not want to be a financial burden on her parents any longer than necessary. Bierlein enrolled at the University of Vienna, receiving her doctorate of law in 1971.
After four years as a candidate judge, Bierlein was officially elevated to the judiciary in 1975. She spent the next two years presiding over trial courts, first the District Court Innere Stadt (German: Bezirksgericht Innere Stadt Wien) and then the District Tribunal Vienna (Stafbezirksgericht Wien), a criminal court that has since been dissolved. In the former position, she mostly dealt with cases at tenancy law, an area that appears to have bored her greatly.
In 1977, Bierlein left the bench to join the Vienna Public Prosecutor’s Office (Staatswanwaltschaft Wien). She was responsible for general and political criminal cases as well as for criminal cases pursuant to media law, a type of proceedings customarily handled by dedicated specialists in Austria. In 1986, Bierlein was promoted to the Vienna Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office (Oberstaatsanwaltschaft Wien).
She was now a distinguished civil servant attached to one of the country’s five most senior criminal chambers. In 1987, she spent a few months working in the Department of Criminal Law in the Ministry of Justice, then returned to her position in the prosecution service.
In 1990, she was appointed advocate general of the Procurator’s Office, the section of the prosecution service attached directly to the Supreme Court. She was the first woman to serve in this position.
The same year, Bierlein became a member of the board of examiners for judges and prosecutors at the Vienna Higher Regional Court, a position she would hold until 2010.
In 1995, Bierlein was appointed to the executive board of the Association of Austrian Prosecutors. From 2001 to 2003, she served as the association’s president. Also from 2001 to 2003, she held a seat on the executive board of the International Association of Prosecutors.
In 2002, the first Schüssel government recommended Bierlein for appointment as vice president of the Constitutional Court. The move was not uncontroversial at the time. Bierlein had prosecuted crime with great fervor but had not distinguished herself as a legal scholar; she is in fact considered indifferent as a theorist to this day.
Opposition politicians such as Josef Cap accused the government of passing over multiple more competent candidates in favor of a partisan hack. Bierlein supporters such as Maria Fekter countered that Bierlein’s appointment would be an important step towards gender equality in Austria.
Assenting to the cabinet’s recommendation, President Thomas Klestil appointed Bierlein on November 21, 2002, the appointment to be effective January 1, 2003. Once again, Bierlein was the first woman to serve in the role she was being elevated to. In fact, there had been no women at all on the Constitutional Court until 1995.
Bierlein took over from the president of the court, Gerhart Holzinger, when he retired from the bench effective December 31, 2017.
On the initiative of the Freedom Party, the right-of-center Kurz government moved to turn her interim position into a permanent one. President Alexander Van der Bellen confirmed Bierlein as the new president of the Constitutional Court on February 23, 2018. Bierlein’s previous role as vice president passed on to Supreme Court justice Christoph Grabenwarter. Wolfgang Brandstetter, who had formerly been vice chancellor and minister of justice on a People’s Party ticket, was appointed to fill the vacancy of the Court. Bierlein will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2019.
Brigitte Bierlein: Politics
Bierlein is solidly right of center but is not reputed to be a zealot. During her time as a prosecutor, she was noted for her hardline tough-on-crime stance, although her years on the bench have earned her a reputation for civility and for working well with ideological opponents. Commentators from both sides of the political spectrum note Bierlein’s close ties to both People’s Party and Freedom Party, as well as the fact that her career owes both its unexpected major breaks to right-of-center coalition governments.
Bierlein herself acknowledges both her toughness as a prosecutor and her socially conservative bent in general. In response to doubts about her ability to remain above the fray as a Constitutional Court justice, she claims to be as committed to impartiality as any other professional judge; she also points out that she has never actually joined any party.
Brigitte Bierlein: Awards
Grand Decoration of Honor in Silver with Sash for Services to the Republic of Austria
Brigitte Bierlein: Family
Bierlein is unmarried and has no children. Her life partner is a retired judge. Bierlein continues to cultivate artistic tastes. She enjoys theater, the opera, and visiting museums. She owns contemporary paintings, although she does not consider herself a collector. She also enjoys skiing and sailing.
Brigitte Bierlein Quick Facts
Female Trailblazer in Constitutional Court
Despite initially considering a career in art or architecture, Bierlein chose to study law and pursued a career in Austria’s judicial system. After serving over 10 years at the Vienna Public Prosecutor’s Office, she was appointed advocate general of the Procurator’s Office – a department reporting directly to the country’s Supreme Court, becoming the first woman to hold such a post in Austria’s history.
She was later appointed vice president of the Constitutional Court on the recommendation of the government of Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel in 2002, also becoming the first woman to hold this position. Her appointment was criticised by opposition politicians as being politically motivated, but supporters of the move suggested that it would promote gender equality in the country.
Dismissal of Last Government
The government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who was elected in 2017, was dismissed after he lost a no-confidence vote on 27 May — a first in modern Austrian history. Kurz was voted out by the Social Democrats and the right-wing Freedom Party, which was in an alliance with the Austrian People’s Party until it fell apart.
The coalition was shattered due to a political scandal surrounding a video tape that allegedly showed the Freedom Party of Austria’s former leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, negotiating conditions with a foreign woman for potentially exchanging government contracts in return for help in an election.
Brigitte Bierlein has never joined any political faction, but is perceived to have centre-right leaning views, with most of her major career turns taking place while centre-right coalitions have been in power. At the same time, Bierlein has a reputation of being a person who can work with ideological opponents and has insisted that she is a devotee to the principle of impartiality, just like any professional judge.
Despite choosing a career in the judiciary instead of the arts, Bierlein reportedly continues to cultivate an artistic taste and collects contemporary paintings, although she doesn’t consider herself a collector. Aside from this, she reportedly enjoys skiing and sailing.
Bierlein is not married and doesn’t have any children, but lives with a retired judge.
President of Austria’s Major Judicial Body
Under the government of now dismissed Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Brigitte Bierlein was appointed on 31 December 2017 as acting president of the Constitutional Court, thereby becoming the first woman to hold such a high judicial position in the country’s history. Her place was made permanent in February 2018 on the government’s recommendation.
First Female Chancellor
However, her tenure as president of the Constitutional Court wouldn’t last for long, as she faced mandatory retirement upon turning 70 on 25 June 2019. However, on 30 May she was appointed as Austria’s interim chancellor by President Alexander Van der Bellen. Austria has never before had a female chancellor, either interim or otherwise.
- Brigitte Bierlein Biography and Profile (Brigitte Bierlein / Wikipedia / SN)