The Bundesrat ("Federal Council") of the German Empire was, at least in theory, the highest authority of the Empire. It existed from 1871 to 1918 and succeeded the same body of the North German Confederation. Until the 1902 spelling reform, its name was spelled Bundesrath.
The representatives of the states voted as directed by their governments. The chairmanship of the Bundesrat was held by the Imperial Chancellor. All laws passed in Germany had to have the support of the Bundesrat. In addition, certain official procedures carried out by the Kaiser had to be voted on, for example, the dissolution of the Reichstag and declarations of war. The Bundesrat ruled on Reichsexekutions; in addition it had numerous administrative functions and the power to adjudicate disputes between the states and, in certain cases, to resolve constitutional disputes within a state. An Imperial Supreme Court, unlike that of the Constitution of St. Paul's Church, was not envisaged in the Imperial Constitution as an independent body, rather jurisdiction lay with the German Emperor and King of Prussia.
The Bundesrat was, in practice, dominated by Prussia. It had a plurality of 17 votes in the chamber; no other state had more than six votes. It could control the proceedings by forming alliances with the other states. Additionally, Bismarck served as both prime minister and foreign minister of Prussia for almost his entire tenure. In the latter capacity, he had the right to instruct the Prussian deputies to the Bundesrat.
The political reality was that the Bundesrat, in spite of its authority, was pushed into the background by the Kaiser and the Reich Chancellor due to the simple fact that the Prussian minister-president often held the office of Reich chancellor simultaneously and was thus chairman of the Bundesrat.
For changes to the constitution a proposal had to go through the normal legislative process. That said, it only needed 14 votes in the Bundesrat to vote down a proposal. That meant that Prussia, with its 17 votes, effectively had a right of veto over constitutional changes.
|Remarks||Number of votes|
|Prussia||following the takeover of the states annexed in 1866||17|
|Alsace-Lorraine||was represented from 1911, although it was not a federal state (Bundesstaat)||3|
|17 other small states||each with one vote||17|
(from 1911: 61)