The Guardian Council of the Constitution (Persian: شورای نگهبان قانون اساسی, Shora-ye Negahban-e Qanun-e Assassi) is an appointed and constitutionally mandated 12-member council that wields considerable power and influence in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Iranian constitution calls for the council to be composed of six Islamic faqihs (expert in Islamic Law), "conscious of the present needs and the issues of the day" to be selected by the Supreme Leader of Iran, and six jurists, "specializing in different areas of law, to be elected by the Majlis (the Iranian Parliament) from among the Muslim jurists nominated by the Head of the Judicial Power," (who, in turn, is also appointed by the supreme leader).
It is charged with interpreting the Constitution of Iran, supervising elections of, and approving of candidates to, the Assembly of Experts, the President and the Majlis, and "ensuring ... the compatibility of the legislation passed by the Islamic Consultative Assembly [i.e. Majlis] ... with the criteria of Islam and the Constitution".
The Council has played a central role in allowing only one interpretation of Islamic values to inform Iranian law, as it consistently disqualifies reform-minded candidates—including the most well-known candidates—from running for office, and vetoes laws passed by the popularly elected Majlis. When the 2009 Presidential election was announced, the popular former president, Mohammad Khatami, would not discuss his plans to run against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the Council may disqualify the Muslim cleric as it has other reformist candidates on the grounds that they were not dedicated enough to Islamic values. It has also increased the influence the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (an ideological fighting force separate from the Iranian army) has on the economic and cultural life of the country. There have been instances when the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly criticized members of the Assembly of Experts resulting in their arrest and dismissal. For example, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly called then-member of the Assembly of Experts Ahmad Azari Qomi, a traitor, resulting in Ahmad Azari Qomi's arrest and eventual dismissal from the Assembly of Experts. There have been also instances where the Guardian Council reversed its ban for particular people after being ordered to do so by current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The Majlis has no legal status without the Guardian Council. Any bill passed by the Majlis must be reviewed and approved by the Guardian Council to become law.
According to Article 96 of the constitution, the Guardian Council holds veto power over all legislation approved by the Majlis. It can nullify a law based on two accounts: being against Islamic laws, or being against the constitution. While all the members vote on the laws being compatible with the constitution, only the six clerics vote on them being compatible with Islam.
If any law is rejected, it will be passed back to the Majlis for correction. If the Majlis and the Council of Guardians cannot decide on a case, it is passed up to the Expediency Council for a decision.
The Guardian Council is uniquely involved in the legislative process, with equal oversight with regards to economic law and social policy, including such controversial topics as abortion. Chapter 6 of the Constitution explains its interworkings with the Islamic Consultative Assembly. Articles 91-97 all fall in the legislative Chapter 6.
The Council of Guardians also functions similar to a constitutional court. The authority to interpret the constitution is vested in the Council. Interpretative decisions require a three-quarters majority. The Council does not conduct a court hearing where opposing sides are argued.
Since 1991, all candidates of parliamentary or presidential elections, as well as candidates for the Assembly of Experts, have to be qualified by the Guardian Council in order to run in the election. For major elections it typically disqualifies most candidates, for example in the 2009 election, 476 men and women applied to the Guardian Council to seek the presidency, and four were approved.
The Council is accorded "supervision of elections". The Guardian Council interprets the term supervision in Article 99 as "approbation supervision" (Persian: نظارت استصوابی) which implies the right for acceptance or rejection of elections legality and candidates competency. This interpretation is in contrast with the idea of "notification supervision" (Persian: نظارت استطلاعی) which does not imply the mentioned approval right. The "evidentiary supervision" (Persian: نظارت استنادی), which requires evidences for acceptance or rejection of elections legality and candidates competency, is another interpretation of mentioned article.
On Monday, June 29, 2009, the Guardian Council certified the results of the controversial election in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected. The Council had completed a recount of 10 percent of the overall votes in order to appease the citizens of Iran. As the "final authority on the election", the Council has declared the election closed. The certification of the results set off a wave of protests, disregarding the Iranian government's ban on street marches. The Iranian intelligence chief alleged that western and "Zionist" forces were responsible for inciting the protests.
The Council favors military candidates at the expense of reform candidates. This ensures that the ideological Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (separate from the Iranian army) holds a commanding influence over the political, economic, and cultural life of Iran.
Hadi Khamenei, the brother of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and an adviser in the administration of reformist former President Mohammad Khatami, said the Guardian Council's vetting of candidates threatens Iranian democracy. He believes some reformist candidates are wrongly kept from running. In 1998, the Guardian Council rejected Hadi Khamenei's candidacy for a seat in the Assembly of Experts for "insufficient theological qualifications."
After conservative candidates fared poorly in the 2000 parliamentary elections, the Council disqualified more than 3,600 reformist and independent candidates for the 2004 elections.
In the run-up to the Iranian Assembly of Experts election, 2006, all women candidates were disqualified.
The Council disqualified many candidates in the 2008 parliamentary elections. One third of them were members of the outgoing parliament it had previously approved. The Iranian Ministry of the Interior gave nebulous, arbitrary reasons for disqualifying the majority of the candidates, including narcotics addiction or involvement in drug-smuggling, connections to the Shah's pre-revolutionary government, lack of belief in or insufficient practice of Islam, being "against" the Islamic Republic, or having connections to foreign intelligence services.
This unelected Council frequently vetoes bills passed by the popularly elected legislature. It repeatedly vetoes bills in favor of women’s rights, electoral reform, the prohibition of torture and ratification of international human rights treaties.
The Council is composed of Islamic clerics and lawyers. Membership is for phased six-year terms: half the membership changes every three years.
The Supreme Leader (Iran's Head of State) nominates six clerics, and may constitutionally dismiss them at will. The head of the judicial system of Iran (currently Sadeq Larijani), himself selected by the Supreme Leader, nominates six lawyers for confirmation by the Majlis.
Lawyers:Mohammad Reza Alizadeh (deputy chairman)
Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei (spokesperson)
Clerics:Ahmad Jannati (chairman)
Mohammad-Reza Modarresi Yazdi
Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi