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Russia's Constitutional Court overturns a popular ruling by Ingushetia's Constitutional Court, ignoring one of the latter's main arguments

Meduza
Judges on Russia’s Constitutional Court
Judges on Russia’s Constitutional Court
Alexey Danichev / Sputnik / Scanpix / LETA

Ingushetia and Chechnya signed a border agreement, but the Ingush Constitutional Court intervened

On September 28, Ingush leader Yunus-bek Yevkurov and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov signed an agreement formally establishing the boundaries between their two republics. Technically, the boundary between Ingushetia and Chechnya had been in limbo since 1992, when Chechnya tried to secede from the Russian Federation. On October 4, the parliaments of Ingushetia and Chechnya adopted special laws approving the deal.

In Ingushetia, the decision sparked major protests, sending thousands of people into the streets who oppose the redistribution of land. On October 16, the agreement entered force. Two weeks later, however, on October 30, the Ingush Constitutional Court overturned the Ingush Parliament’s decision, ruling that it violates the republic’s constitution.

The Ingush Constitutional Court’s position

Adopting legislation wasn’t enough to approve the agreement reached by Yevkurov and Kadyrov. According to “interconnected norms” laid out in the Ingush Constitution and local constitutional law, the government also needs to hold a republic-wide referendum to determine the views of the Ingush people.

The Ingush Parliament also violated legal procedures when adopting the legislation that approved the border deal. Deputies voted by secret ballot on all three readings at once, and an act of parliament never verified the tally committee’s minutes, which theoretically could have led to fraudulent results.

The Russian Constitutional Court’s position

The Ingush Constitutional Court violated Ingushetia’s own constitution, which doesn’t empower the local Constitutional Court to challenge agreements that have already entered force. The agreement with Chechnya had already entered force, thanks to the Ingush Parliament’s legislation. Yes, the law was adopted with procedural violations, but this is just a mere technicality — an improper execution of the deputies’ intentions.

A referendum isn’t necessary. The Ingush Constitution is misinterpreting its own Constitution and local laws, which only require a referendum when changing the republic’s boundaries. In this case, the boundaries are being established for the first time, not revised, which is the exclusive competence of state officials in Ingushetia and Chechnya. So there’s no need to ask local citizens for approval.

The Ingush Parliament has the right to vote openly or by secret ballot. All three readings of the law were adopted in one vote, but deputies couldn’t make any amendments, regardless, given the nature of the issue. They could only approve or reject the agreement as it was already signed. Furthermore, only a dozen members of the Ingush Parliament challenged the law in the Ingush Constitutional Court, meaning that “no one else has any doubts” that the final vote reflects the will of the legislature.

Russia’s Constitutional Court effectively overturned the decision by Ingushetia’s Constitutional Court

The Russian Constitutional Court ruled that the border agreement between Ingushetia and Chechnya is absolutely legal, making it impossible to invalidate. Decisions by the federal court are mandatory for all public authorities, organizations, and citizens. The ruling is final and cannot be appealed.

Why only “effectively”? Russia’s Constitutional Court acknowledges that it lacks the explicit right to overturn Ingush Constitutional Court rulings for noncompliance with the Russian Constitution. Judges determined, however, that the Ingush court exceeded its authority by invalidating an agreement that had already entered force.

Representatives of the Ingush Constitutional Court did not attend the Russian Constitutional Court’s hearings and have not yet commented on the ruling.

Russia’s Constitutional Court ignored one of the Ingush Constitutional Court’s main arguments

Russia’s Constitutional Court ignored the fact that an act of parliament never verified the tally committee’s minutes, when the Ingush Parliament adopted its law approving the border deal. Officially, 17 deputies supported the legislation, three voted against, and five abstained. Immediately after the vote, however, 11 deputies signed a declaration stating that they voted against the law, accusing the tally committee of falsification.

Text by Denis Dmitriev

Translation by Kevin Rothrock