Constitutional Court’s birthday is celebrated at the end of October. On October 30th, 1991 Judges of the Court held their first working session. However there’s still ongoing debate over the date, which should be considered the true birthday of the Court – should it be the day of the adoption of the first Law on the Constitutional Court, the day when the judges were elected or rather the day of the Court’s first session?
The idea to create a special body, entrusted with overseeing the compliance with Basic Law, is attributed to Mikhail Gorbachev. He proposed to establish the Committee of Constitutional Supervision of the USSR.
The idea was implemented into legislation on December 1, 1988, when Art. 125 of the Constitution of the USSR had been amended. The amendment stipulated that Committee of Constitutional Supervision (CCS) of the USSR was to consist of 23 experts in law and political science, it was also to include a representative from each of the 15 constituent republics; CCS was to be elected by the Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR.
On December 21–23, 1989 the Second Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR had adopted the law on the Constitutional Oversight in the USSR, elected Sergey Alekseyev as the Chairman of the CCS and Boris Lazarev as the Deputy Chairman.
The task of electing the remaining 25 Committee members (the composition of the CCS was enlarged compared to initial plans) was delegated to the Supreme Council.
On April 26, 1990 the Supreme Council elected 19 members of the CCS.
Committee of Constitutional Supervision of the USSR was empowered to oversee the constitutionality of not only of enacted laws of the USSR, but also of legislative drafts as well as legal acts of the Prosecutor-General of the USSR, Supreme State Arbiter of the USSR and other normative acts.
During its existence – from May 1990 to December 1991– CCS had pronounced 23 decisions. They include a number of landmark rulings, which maintain their relevance up to date – such as those, which declared discretionary citizen registration procedure and implementation of normative acts without their prior publication incompatible with the Constitution.
CCS stood up courageously to the coup attempt of August 19, 1991. All the CCS members present in Moscow (unfortunately there were only five) conducted a session. A quorum of at least 11 members present was required for CCS to proclaim a decision. Thus it was decided that each of the present members in their personal capacity would submit a vehement request to the Supreme Council of the USSR, stating their concern about the situation. However the position of the CCS was misinterpreted by the media to the extent of giving impression that the CCS at least had no objections over the actions of the SCSE (State Council for the State of Emergency) if not outright endorsed them.
In December 1991 the Committee of Constitutional Supervision of the USSR had voluntarily ceased its existence.
Amendment to the Russian Constitution, which was passed on December 15, 1990 for the first time mentioned the institution of the Constitutional Court. The amendment, approved by the Second Russian Congress of People’s Deputies, stipulated that the Constitutional Court of Russia was to be elected by the Congress, while its operation was to be defined by a separate law.
Fourth Russian Congress of People’s Deputies discussed the draft law on the Constitutional Court, but it failed to pass by over 100 votes.
The slightly changed version of the law was approved only by the subsequent Fifth Congress on July 12, 1991.
On October 29–30, 1991 13 out of 15 Judges of the Constitutional Court were elected upon nomination of freshly elected Supreme Council Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov.
October 30, 1991 saw the first working session of the Constitutional Court and on January 14, 1992 the first hearing took place.
At its first hearing the Constitutional Court reviewed the constitutionality of the Presidential Executive Order on the Establishment of Security and Interior Ministry, which merged ministries of state security and internal affairs into a single body.
The Constitutional Court ruled the Executive Order unconstitutional, stating that, by signing the Executive Order, the President had acted ultra vires. The Judgement of the Constitutional Court also referred to restrictions of human rights and liberties by the activities of security agencies, including inviolability of person, privacy, dwelling, correspondence and phone conversations. Division and mutual deterrence of state security and interior agencies was meant to secure democracy and to serve as a bulwark against unlawful takeover of power.
The longest (with hearings lasting almost half a year), the largest in scale and the most publicized case in all the history of the Constitutional Court was the review of the constitutionality of presidential Executive Orders, by which in August 1991 the operation of the Communist Party was first suspended and then ceased, effectively declaring it illegal. Within the same case the Constitutional Court also reviewed the constitutionality of parties themselves – the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of Russia.
Many scholars consider the case to be underestimated and incorrectly understood. It may be due to the fact that it came at the peak of political strife and social division. Opposing forces wanted radical far left or far right (depending on whether they represent right or left flank) turn.
The Constitutional Court made a ‘peacemaking’ decision. It ruled that merger of party structures and state bodies was impermissible, but spared ordinary party members. The Constitutional Court ruled that in a democratic state there should be no ban on a particular ideology and thus the prohibition of association by people with particular beliefs is also impermissible.
As a result, both those who supported Communist parties, and those who desired that Constitutional Court sanction lustration and punishment for all former communists, were disenchanted with the result.
Finally, the judgment with the most dramatic consequences was the one which ruled on unconstitutionality of the presidential Executive Order No. 1400, by which he dissolved the Congress of People’s Deputies. It happened on October 5, 1993. Two days later President Yeltsin suspended the operation of the Constitutional Court.
On December 12, 1993 a new Constitution of Russia was adopted by a popular vote. Article 125 of the new Constitution established new legal framework for the operation of the Constitutional Court.
There were two significant changes compared with previous legislation: from that time on the Constitutional Court lost the power to review cases on its own initiative and to review the constitutionality of political parties or of the actions by particular officials. Constitutional Court was empowered to review only normative acts and only upon a specific petition.
Another change, although apparently insignificant, but with a significant impact on the operation of the Court, was the increase in the number of Judges from 15 to 19.
On June 24, 1994 the State Duma adopted a new law to govern the structure and operation of the Court – the Federal Constitutional Law On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.
On July 12 the proposed draft was approved by the Federation Council. On July 21 the law was signed by the President and on July 23 it was officially published.
By February 1995 all the vacant positions of the judges of the Court were filled.
The current decade became the period of constant change of both the legislative framework and practical operation of the Constitutional Court. In January 2001 the terms of the judges appointed by the Federation Council were extended from 12 to 15 years. In March 2005 the Federal Constitutional Law On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation was amended to remove fixed terms of office for judges. New provisions of the law stipulate that a judge shall hold office from the day of the appointment and until having attained the age of 70.
The next changes to the legislative framework of constitutional justice took place in winter of 2007. Article 115 of the Federal Constitutional Law On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, establishing the residence of the Court, was amended to change its wording into the following: Permanent residence of the Constitutional Court shall be situated in the city of St.Petersburg.
The amendment entered into force on February 5, 2007 and by May 21, 2008 operation of the constitutional justice was transferred to the complex of Senate historic buildings in St.Petersburg city center.
Further streamlining of the Federal Constitutional Law On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation took place in June 2009. Legislators established new procedure for appointment of the President of the Constitutional Court and his deputies, whose number increased to two, as the office of Judge-Secretary has been substituted by that of the second Vice-President of the Constitutional Court. From now on the President and the Vice-Presidents were appointed by the Federation Council upon nomination by the President of the Russian Federation. Their term of office was set at six years with the possibility of reappointment after its expiration.
A large block of amendments to the Federal Constitutional Law “On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation” was adopted in November, 2010. Basically, they affected issues related to the improvement of the procedure of constitutional judicial proceedings. In particular, the Constitutional Court obtained the possibility, on certain conditions, to resolve cases without holding of hearings. This allowed the Court to shorten the terms of consideration of a number of categories of cases and to increase efficiency and effectiveness of the protection of violated rights and freedoms of citizens of the Russian Federation.
In 2014, the competence of the Constitutional Court was broadened with reference to verification of constitutionality of questions submitted to an all-Russian referendum, as well as in the field of settling conflicts between Russian legislation and international legal acts as they are interpreted by the inter-State bodies for the protection of human rights and freedoms. Amendments of 2010 and 2014 also affected legal regulation of a number of procedural questions of activity of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, including those related to realization of the right of citizens and their associations to petition the Court.