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Russia's Constitutional Court and a Decade of Hard Cases: A Postscript

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For more content, see Review of Socialist Law.

Much attention has been focused on the promulgation of legislation as a bellwether of change in Russia since the beginning of perestroika in the mid-1980s; for a brief period at the beginning of the 1990s, there was even a "war of laws". In the 2000s, legislative activity continues unabated—albeit usually charged with less emotion and devoted to more thorough analyses, if not always wide-ranging discussions, of signifi cant policy issues. The implementation of transition-era legislation is also sharing the limelight in recent years. Dispositions of the USSR Committee of Constitutional Supervision (and, later, of the RF Constitutional Court) are prime examples of a prism through which to view the interpretation and implementation of reform-era legislation in the RF. The outcomes of the controversies resolved by the Court could themselves be a bellwether in ascertaining the degree to which reforms in the Russian legal, political, and economic systems are being anchored in the rule of law. For example, the banning of secret laws from the Russian landscape was the outcome of an early landmark Court case.

Yet the hangover of an old policy of only partially disseminating information on the judicial interpretation of Russian legislation still remains. This, in turn, stymies further efforts to cement the pieces of the rule of law puzzle more firmly together. While citizens have been entitled for more than a decade to access the full texts of RF laws, they (or their representatives) can only view a part—albeit one that is far greater than in Soviet times—of the work of the judiciary. This is due to a distinctly narrow view of state acts that, alas, does not encompass the gamut of RF judicial dispositions.

So, at the beginning of the 2000s, the RF Constitutional Court still applies a fine-line, technical distinction between its two classes of dispositions: postanovleniia and zakliucheniia , on the one hand (that are subject to mandatory publication), and opredeleniia (that are only selectively published) on the other hand. The use of this approach as a filter, limiting access to judicial information in the RF, is especially remarkable in light of the fact that the use of an analogous practice by the legislative branch has been declared unconstitutional. The Court's approach to accessing judicial information throws, in effect, a mantel of secrecy around a not-insignifi cant category of high-court dispositions. This puts the Court at loggerheads with attempts in other sectors of society to strengthen the evolving rule-of-law regime in Russia.

This roadblock notwithstanding, the interpretation and application of reform legislation are not longer hidden from full view owing to a unique compilation of published—as well as unpublished—RF Constitutional Court dispositions from the fi rst decade of its operation. The present postscript outlines the research effort that has produced this compilation; it also argues for the rapid enactment of a full-publication policy at all levels of the RF judicial system.


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