Russia’s Politicized Judiciary Enables the Tyrannical Rule of Man, Not of the Law

July 23, 2021
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by Jorge Gomez and Leo Schlueter • 6 min read

Right now, members of the Democratic Party are upping the ante as they attempt to overthrow America’s judicial system by stacking our courts with politically-motivated judges.

Their brazen power-grab continues despite an abundance of examples—as First Liberty experts have discussed in countries like Venezuela, Argentina and Hungary—showing how court-packing and judicial manipulation are destructive to freedom.

Below, we expose the way Vladimir Putin and ruling elites manipulated Russia’s courts to create a “crony” judiciary where judges are political tools used to help the Kremlin remain in power. This is yet another warning to Americans of how a politicized judiciary will take our country down the dangerous “Road to Tyranny.”

A Twisted System of Justice

When courts are stripped of their independence and become extensions of whoever holds executive or legislative power, this creates a surefire recipe for tyranny, where the rule of law is replaced by the rule of man.

Legal scholars have documented and argued that this is the case in Russia:

“In Putin’s Russia, the sovereign [ruler] uses the law and legal institutions to fulfill political goals, to communicate them to society, and to manage the authoritarian coalition that helps the president govern.”

In 2020, Putin cemented his power by signing into law radical changes to Russia’s judicial system, giving him power to terminate supreme court and lower court offices. In practice, this gives Putin free reign to remove and appoint new judges as he sees fit.

(In a twist of irony, the Russian president called it a judicial “reform,” the same language court-packing advocates in America today are using to justify their power-grab).

Because the judiciary is beholden to the power of the top leader, Russian judges’ primary concerns are not constitutional principles. Rulings are handed down based on what judges think is the most politically expedient outcome. And in many cases, the law is interpreted for political benefit, squelching any real opportunity or recourse for opposing voices to flourish.

One example is political opposition leader Alexei Navalny who’s been jailed since 2017 in what the European Court of Human Rights has called an “arbitrary and unreasonable” trial. That’s just one of approximately 349 political prisoners (288 of them religious prisoners) in Russia reported by the international human rights NGO, Freedom House.

In essence, Russia’s judicial system is rigged and “legal outcomes, while unpredictable if one goes by the content of the law, are entirely predictable if one knows the preferences of the political sovereign.” In other words, when entering the courtroom, the Kremlin always wins.

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The Downfall of Constitutional Rights and Freedoms

When a dictator “reforms” or packs the courts with political cronies who rule in favor of the ruling party, it’s citizens who pay the price with the loss of their rights and freedoms.

Russia’s crony judicial system has hollowed out many fundamental rights and liberties, including the freedom of speech, association and assembly, freedom of movement and religious freedom. One study notes: “Whatever rights do exist de jure are undermined de facto by the Russian courts, which do not uphold them consistently or predictably.”

For example, in 2017, Russia’s highest court banned Jehovah’s Witnesses from the country, designating them as an “extremist organization,” effectively removing freedom of religion for their roughly 100,000 worshipers in Russia.

What’s more, a 2020 U.S. State Department report designated Russia as one of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom:

“The [Russian] government targets ‘nontraditional’ religious minorities with fines, detentions and criminal charges under the pretext of combating extremism. Russian legislation criminalizes ‘extremism’ without adequately defining the term, enabling the state to prosecute a vast range of nonviolent religious activity.”

Whether it’s in Russia or any other country, tyrants are infamously known for destroying judicial independence and manipulating the courts for one purpose: to remove any opposition, consolidate power and exert total control over citizens.

Make no mistake, in this definitive moment in America’s history, the far-Left’s scheme to pack the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts with liberal, activist judges will not make our country better, more diverse, more equal or give us more freedom. The lessons of history and other nations prove the opposite.

Together, we must resoundingly make our voice heard and reject court-packing in America. A hyper-partisan judiciary will only take us closer to authoritarian rule—where our God-given rights would no longer be protected, but would instead be decided and granted by a handful of elites who hold political power.    

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