Pragmatic Constitutional Court in Russia’s Dual State

This paper analyzes the conduct of the Russian Constitutional Court (RCC) and its chairman, Valerii Zorkin, in an effort to explain its institutional health and longevity in the context of consolidated authoritarianism. We argue that the stability of RCC today seems to have been due in large part to the pragmatic actions of its chairman, who managed to fend off many attacks to protect the tribunal through his interactions with Russia’s leaders. It starts with outlining the three key characteristics of an institutionalized constitutional review tribunal – access and jurisdiction, decision-making autonomy in cases and internal operations, and authoritativeness. Then, it lays out the patterns of conduct of RCC that the two regimes (constitutionalism and political expediency), which are combined in the dual state, anticipate. In this theoretical context, we explore the pragmatism of RCC and its chairman as reflected in its loyalty to Vladimir Putin and in its resilience and activism.

From Transmission Belts to (Semi)Autonomous Actors – Chief Justices in Slovakia

Thhis paper analyses various roles of the Chief Justices in Slovakia after the split of Czechoslovakia. It explores whether Slovak Chief Justices still operate as “transmission belts” of the Slovak ruling political elites, like in the communist era, and how much influence they have over careers of rank-and-file judges. It shows that Chief Justices in semi-institutionalized democracies have a dual role – they communicate with external political actors and, at the same time, they have significant internal powers over the rank-and-file judges. More specifically, the paper tries to determine the scope of maneuver of Slovak court presidents and explores the links between selection and dismissals of court presidents and electoral cycles. Subsequently, it analyzes the influence of court presidents on selection, promotion and disciplining of judges. Finally, the paper discusses the role of Chief Justice and court presidents as strategic actors in comparative perspective.

Chief Justices and Autocratic Consolidation: The Venezuelan Supreme Court under Nicolás Maduro’s Rule

This article discusses the role of high courts in a consolidating autocracy. The use of high courts to entrench authoritarian rule depends on a series of non-exclusive conditions related to the court system, regime features and political context. A supportive judiciary can help the government compile information on a range of actors and provide a venue to create policy, solve internal conflicts, and punish opponents. It could also help an autocratic regime bolster its claim that it is stable, functional and with enough political clout to deliver credible commitments made with domestic and international allies. I discuss these arguments in the context of Venezuela under Maduro’s rule (2013 – Current), where the Supreme Court functions as an ‘authoritarian enclave’ – blocking opposition threats, disowning fundamental rights, supporting policy solutions, providing guidelines and key decisions for managing the opposition and repression, and enhancing regime legitimacy vis-à-vis allies.