Three Sources of Dynamism of Russia’s Constitutional Law: The Constitutional Court in Political Process

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Author: Alexei Trochev

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2022-2-125-146

Keywords: Russian Constitutional Court; instrumentalization of law; legal dualism; political expediency; constitutional justice; basic rights; European Court of Human Rights


Having reached the age of 30, the Russian Constitutional Court finds itself in a dynamic situation. Dynamic constitutional law, Russian-style, is a product of the ambitions of both a powerful head of state as a patron-in-chief and his clients, who gain powers, discretion and privileges in exchange for displaying loyalty to their patron. The Russian Constitutional Court (RCC) has been a central, pragmatic yet ambitious player that expanded its powers and privileges at the expense of judicial autonomy in this dynamic exchange of making, remaking and unmaking constitutional rules. In this article I explore the multiple roles played by the RCC in handling three sources of this dynamic exchange: the instrumentalization of constitutional law by the rulers; legal dualism and the adaptation of the RCC to the whims of Russia’s political masters; and the demand for constitutional justice from ordinary Russians. While the first two sources — the instrumentalization of law by the powerful and the creative flexibility of official law-enforcers — are nothing new to Russia-watchers, the third one could be clearly attributed to the operation of the Russian Constitutional Court. Many RCC decisions in politically important cases are products of instrumentalization of constitutional review by the rulers and their clients. For all the threats to its existence and readiness of the regime to recast the court, the RCC has so far been able to persuade Vladimir Putin of the utility of a separate constitutional review tribunal for building a modern personalist autocracy. The RCC has supported the Kremlin by supplying legal justifications for governance reforms in advance of their adoption and by mediating between the Kremlin and the European Court of Human Rights, a highly popular tribunal among Russians. Still, some RCC judges believe that their tribunal can make its own — autonomous from the interests of the rulers — contribution to the dynamism of Russian constitutional law. The continuation of dissenting opinions by RCC judges up until 2021 indicated that political leaders accepted that the credibility of RCC judges (and the value of their support) depended upon their appearing autonomous as individual judges. This appearance clearly has been playing a role in generating and cultivating the demand for constitutional justice among ordinary Russians, who never before had a chance to sue their state for violations of their basic rights.

The author thanks Peter Solomon, Igor Kravets, and Anton Burkov for valuable suggestions.

About the author: Alexei Trochev – Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Nazarbayev University, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Citation: Trochev A. (2022) Three sources of dynamism of Russia’s constitutional law and the multiple roles of the Russian Constitutional Court. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 125–146.


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