The Limits of Political Rights in China as Seen in Cases

Although the Chinese Constitution includes a comprehensive list of political rights, courts are prohibited from applying fundamental rights in judicial practice. However, this does not mean that judges do not cite fundamental rights in the reasoning part of court decisions. According to the Supreme People’s Court open access court decision database courts have cited the constitution in more than 900 decisions between 2014 and 2016. Though fundamental rights do not form the basis of the decision, their citation constitutes a decisive legal argument in the legal reasoning of those decisions. The paper finds that where courts cite political constitutional rights, they follow the constitution’s internal logic of limiting fundamental rights in cases that only marginally impact public interest. Courts demonstrate that they are willing as well as capable to delimit the legal boundaries of political rights in the context of China’s authoritarian regime.