Structure of the Judiciary
The twenty-three-member Supreme Court is Russia's highest court of origination and of appeals for consideration of criminal, civil, and administrative cases. Its chairman in 1996, Vyacheslav Lebedev, had been a judge in Leningrad and Moscow for nineteen years before his appointment in 1989. The Superior Court of Arbitration, which is headed by a board of one chairman and four deputy chairmen, is the highest court for the resolution of economic disputes. Courts of arbitration also exist at lower jurisdictional levels. The nineteen-member Constitutional Court decides whether federal laws, presidential and federal decrees and directives, and local constitutions, charters, and laws comply with the federal constitution. Treaties between the national government and a regional jurisdiction and between regional jurisdictions are subject to the same oversight. The Constitutional Court also resolves jurisdictional disputes between federal or local organs of power, and it also may be asked to interpret the federal constitution. The Constitutional Court temporarily ceased to exist after Yeltsin dissolved the parliament in October 1993. Although prescribed in the new constitution, the court remained moribund in 1994 because no new law was passed governing its procedures and composition. In 1995 the Federation Council finally approved appointments to the Constitutional Court, and it resumed operation that year.
Under the constitution, judges of the three highest courts serve for life and are appointed by the Federation Council after nomination by the president. The president appoints judges at the next level, the federal district courts. The minister of justice is responsible for appointing judges to regional and city courts. However, in practice many appointments below the national level still are made by the chief executives of subnational jurisdictions, a practice that has perpetuated local political influence on judges' decisions (see Local and Regional Government, this ch.).