. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Retiring Court Chair Chides Russia's Lawmakers

Departing Constitutional Court Chairman Vladimir Tumanov took aim at Russia's parliament Wednesday, charging it with shirking its duties, while critics sniped back that he had turned the court into a rubber-stamp body for President Boris Yeltsin.

Tumanov announced he will leave his post in October, when he turns 70. According to Russian law, judges on the Constitutional Court must resign by the last day of the month in which their 70th birthday falls. But the court chairman was in a feisty mood at Wednesday's press conference, chiding lawmakers for not doing their job.

"The chambers of parliament and individual deputies often address issues to us on which the parliament itself could very well pass a resolution on its own," he said. "This is particularly true of the State Duma," the parliament's lower house, he added.

The Duma is dominated by opponents of Yeltsin, with the Communist Party the single largest faction. On more than one occasion, the Duma has appealed to the court to declare presidential decrees unconstitutional.

"A decree says that it is in effect pending the adoption of a federal law," said Tumanov. "Why did the president issue the decree? Because there was a need to address some problem. The Duma thinks that he has exceeded his powers and has done something wrong. But if the Duma had simply adopted a law on the same issue, there would have been no need for such a decree in the first place. This seems to be a more rational way of approaching the issue."

The court's approach has been seen by many observers to be soft on Yeltsin.

"Occasionally we are reproached for favoring the president over parliament," Tumanov told reporters Wednesday, conceding that presidential requests have been turned down far less often than those from parliament.

Critics go further, saying the court's blatant favoritism undermined its authority.

Oleg Rumyantsev, a former parliamentary deputy and a constitutional lawyer on the Duma's legislative committee, who worked on the commission which drew up Russia's constitution, charged that Tumanov has presided over "the death of an independent constitutional judiciary."

"He managed to create an absolutely dependent, pro-presidential constitutional court," he said. "It is an insignificant body, which nobody pays attention to."

Rumyantsev said Yeltsin has issued many decrees violating part three of Article 90 of the constitution, which prohibits the president from issuing decrees which contradict federal constitutional law. At the same time, he said, the constitutional court has not exercised its right to strike down such decrees.

Rumyantsev cited as examples Yeltsin's decrees concerning the second phase of privatization, including last year's controversial loans-for-shares scheme, and the law governing the Federation Council, parliament's upper chamber. "The Federation Council is created unconstitutionally, because the regional powers are taking part on the federal level, which is un-constitutional," said Rumyantsev.

Critics say the most egregious example of the court caving in to the president concerned the conflict in Chechnya. Opponents of the war argued that Yeltsin acted illegally when he dispatched 40,000 troops to the break-away region because he did not first declare a state of emergency.

In July 1995, the court declared Yeltsin's actions in Chechnya to be fully in line with the Constitution.

But the court was not always so compliant. In October 1993, then-chairman Valery Zorkin backed the decision of anti-Yeltsin legislators in the Supreme Soviet to impeach the president following Yeltsin's dissolution of the Soviet-era parliament. Yeltsin responded by suspending the Constitutional Court, reactivating it only in July 1994.

It was not until February 1995 that all 19 of Yeltsin's nominees to the court were approved by the Federation Council, and Tumanov, a law professor and former parliament deputy, was named chairman.

With Tumanov on his way out, the search is on for a new chairman. Rumyantsev said the opposition may push for Zorkin, who has remained on the Constitutional Court, to become its chairman once again. "Yeltsin, however, will never allow [Zorkin] to return to that post," he added.

Meanwhile, one of Tumanov's last official acts may be to participate in Yeltsin's inauguration, scheduled for Aug. 9.

According to a draft plan for the ceremony, he said, "I am to say something for two to three minutes and ask the president to take oath."