Dr. Ivan Grigoriev is a Senior Lecturer at the department of Applied Politics at the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg, Russia. He is a post-doctoral fellow with the Russian Studies Workshop at IU, specializing in the subject of Russia’s Constitutional Courts. At IU he is teaching a course about courts, constitutions, and human rights in authoritarian states.
MB: Can you tell me a bit about your work?
IG: I study the Russian Constitutional Court. I focus on how it works after 1995, from its second opening, to the present day. I’ve collected data about all of the decision of the court and have analyzed them statistically. Back in 2012, I spent a few months observing in the Constitutional Court by talking to people and conducting interviews. It was fantastic–they gave me an office, and they even brought me a porcelain cup and with a saucer. Apparently, any person who has a desk and a chair in the court has to have a porcelain cup. Since I didn’t have a coffee machine, I had to go to the other departments for coffee–that’s how I made a lot of connections for my research, since it was a good conversation starter. Last december I defended my PhD thesis about court, and I had a paper on the subject published in Post-Soviet Affairs. Here at IU I am working on another paper based on my dissertation research.
MB: What are some interesting observations you’ve made about the court from your research?
IG: What is interesting to me is the ways in which the court manages the challenges it is faced with through certain instruments and legal techniques. Many people agree that it can be quite problematic for a court to exist in unfriendly circumstances–for instance, when you have conditions of creeping authoritarianism. Many of the judges for the Constitutional Court were nominated during more democratic times and have histories of human rights activism. They are still on the bench, but the conditions have changed. They have to make a concerted effort to adapt to these new conditions, with the word concerted really being key. They don’t make these concerted acts alone as individuals, but as a group. What I study is how they make these concerted efforts together–how they come up with new norms, some doctrinal solutions, and how they overcome some collective action problems. In these conditions, judges sometimes have to find ways to hand out a decision in favor of the government which would not be too uncomfortable or shameful for them. One thing I published about recently is how the low clerks can serve this function. They can effectively narrow down the pool of cases which are actually brought to the court. They basically screen out as many cases as they can, some of which might have some politically controversy in them.
MB: How does Russia’s judicial system compared to the system in America?
IG: The systems are very different. Russia has a European continental system. It is hard to say if is modelled after the German or French system, since it has elements of both. When you look at it sociologically, you can characterize it as a post-Soviet system. Almost all of the people who worked in the legal profession during Soviet times are still there, so the system tends to reproduce itself. The system in Russia is not as federal as the US system, but instead is quite centralized. The Constitutional Court in Russia stands separately from the rest of the judicial system. Another very important distinction is with legal precedent–it basically does not exist in Russia. People are reluctant to admit that there are precedents for cases or that decisions of the Constitutional Court establish some form of precedent. This is very different from the US, where there is a very huge legal profession based on precedent. When you talk about the rule of law in the US, you essentially mean the rule of lawyers. Lawyers in Russia do not constitute so strong a profession. In Russia it is rule by the bureaucracy or state as opposed to the rule of lawyers.
MB: Can you tell me about the course you are teaching this semester?
IG: I’m teaching a course about courts, constitutions, and human rights in authoritarian states. It’s quite comparative in scope–we recently have been talking about Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Russia. The US is also used as a point of comparison. I try to show that although there is a general rule that democracy is really good for the promotion of rule of law, there are sometimes some exceptions. Sometimes democracy is dysfunctional and hinders rule of law, and sometimes rule of law can exist in autocracies. We cover the general concept of rule of law–what it is, how it can be exported, whether it can be created within countries, and what its historical roots are. We cover varying issues of courts, judicial systems, human rights, and how constitutions are written. It is really an interesting course.
MB: What made you interested in the the subject of the constitutional court in Russia?
IG: It’s a funny story. Russia is different from America in that you are allowed to retake exams up to three times. During my MA studies, there was an exam on European Union law that I kept failing. For some reason, the first, second, and third time I took the exam, I got the same question about the European Court of Justice. Of course, I actually understood how it worked by the third time. European court of justice has a heroic reputation, and I thought it was very interesting once I understood the clandestine operates the justices undertook to form the European Union. Then a friend of mine called me and asked if I wanted to participate with him on a paper regarding how the Russian judicial system should be reformed. I had just learned about the cool European Court of Justice, so I could write from that perspective. So I did, and now I have been working on the subject of the Russian judicial system for 10 years.
MB: What made you interested in this opportunity at IU?
ID: The awesome people that work here. For instance, one of the editors of the Law & Society Review, which is one of the most authoritative journals in my field, works here. In general, there is a very nice combination of experts that work here. IU has a very strong Russian studies center, as well as a very strong political science program.
Megan Burnham is a first -year M.A. student in REEI and an RSW M.A. Fellow.