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Russian Federation: Newly Adopted Constitutional Amendments Change Jurisdiction of Constitutional Court and Procedure for Appointing Judges

(July 15, 2020) On July 3, 2020, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin signed Decree No. 445 “On the Official Publication of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as Amended.” The president issued the decree immediately after the Russian Central Election Commission had approved the results of the national referendum held between June 25 and July 1, 2020, on 206 constitutional amendments, and confirmed that over 74 million Russians had cast their ballots, with 77.92% voting for their adoption. The amendments became effective the next day.

The 206 amendments to the Constitution cover a wide range of issues. They include, among other things, elevating the status of the State Council (an advisory body to the president); limiting the number of presidential terms to two; nullifying the current and past presidential terms of the incumbent; enhancing the role of the State Duma (the lower house of the Federal Assembly, or Russian national parliament); giving the Russian language the status of the state language; declaring the supremacy of Russian laws over international norms, treaties, acts, and agreements; prohibiting foreign citizenship or residence for high profile politicians, officials, judges, and prosecutors; expanding the rights of the president to appoint and dismiss judges; and changing the  local governance system.

Overview of Changes for the Constitutional Court

Chapter 7 of the newly adopted amendments to the Constitution addressed the role of the Constitutional Court within the system of government institutions and established its new competency. The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is the highest judicial body authorized to review the constitutionality of laws and other normative acts, and rule on complaints from citizens when their constitutional rights are violated.  (Constitution of the Russian Federation art. 125(a), (b).) The Constitutional Court is also authorized to rule on the possibility of enforcing decisions of interstate bodies, foreign or international courts, and foreign or international arbitration courts that impose obligations on the Russian Federation in cases when the decision contradicts principles of the public law and order of the Russian Federation. (Art. 125(b).)

Under amendments to article 125, the Constitutional Court acquired new authority to check draft laws per the request of the head of the state. The newly added clause 5.1 to the article stipulates the right of the president to request that the Constitutional Court verify the constitutionality of a law that has been approved by the Federal Assembly before the president signs it. If the court does not confirm the constitutionality of the law, the president returns the law to the State Duma. (Art. 125, § 5, cl. 5.11(b) & (c).)

The same clause states that the number of judges has decreased from 19 to 11, including the chairperson of the Constitutional Court and his/her deputy. (Art. 125, § 1(1).) Additionally, the rules for applying for a case to be heard by the Constitutional Court have changed. A new requirement for recognizing a citizen’s complaint as admissible stipulates that “a citizen can appeal to the Constitutional Court when he/she has exhausted all available remedies provided in the national legal system.” (Art. 125, § 5(1).)

Another constitutional amendment grants the Federation Council the authority to dismiss, upon the proposal of the Russian president, the Constitutional and Supreme Court justices and judges of some lower courts if they, in the opinion of the president, “commit an act defaming the honor and dignity of a judge.” (Art. 102(j) & (z).)

Newly adopted constitutional amendments grant the Russian Federation president the authority to nominate the chairperson and deputy chairperson and justices of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, and other federal courts of the Russian Federation. (Art. 128, §§ 1 & 2.) The authority of the president also extends to the appointments of the prosecutor general and his deputies. Prosecutors of the constituent components of the Russian Federation are also appointed by the president of the Russian Federation after consultations with the Federation Council. They can be dismissed only by the president of the Russian Federation. (Art. 129, §§ 3, 4, 5.) The general prosecutor holds the power to appoint only city and district prosecutors. (Art. 129, § 6.)