A Comparison of the United States and Russian Constitutions

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A constitution is made of formulated principles and fundamental precedents which define how an organization or state is governed. The sets of stipulations of rules define the entity that they govern and when these precedents and principles are documented in to one legal document or a set of documents then they may be term as a written constitution. Virtually, all nations around the globe and various international and local organizations are governed by some form of a constitution. These constitutions are not universal but they espouse and share the same fundamental human values of equity, justice, rights to basic life requirements and life itself. These are few among the numerous basic similarities that exist amongst the numerous constitutions that cover the landscape of the global world.


The United States of America is one among the few first nations that were able to draft their constitutions in very early times in history, and the nation has enjoyed over 200 years of independence with a large number of presidents. In essence the U. S constitution may be termed as one of the worlds most mature constitution considering the number of years it has been existent and the number of amendments that it has undergone. In this paper, the U.S constitution shall be compared against the Russian Constitution which is also a fairly old constitution in the world.


The Making of the Constitutions

The U.S constitutions drafting took place in 1787, its proposition took place on 17thst June 1788-nine months later after proposition. This constitution was created under a joint membership of the U.S constituents states, and was ratified by a majority of the states through the votes of the delegates (a majority of nine states was required for its ratification). Though formulated on a background of divisions, differing interests and views held by different states as well as the differences between federalists and anti-federalists, the U.S constitution has matured throughout the years to give a reflection of unity among the United States of America and commonness of interest, and views. On the other hand, the Russian Constitution was formulated during the 19993 fall. The making of this constitution occurred during an impasse (crisis in politics) between the Russian Federation parliament and the president of the time Boris Yeltsin. Clearly, the Russian Federations constitution is a much younger constitution in comparison to the U.S. governments constitution (Mannheimer 1).


The political impasse can be traced back to Soviet Union. Russia was a part of the Union in 1985. In legal terms the union was a federation of 15 socialist nations where Russia was the dominant republic. All republics and the union had had a government that took a parliamentary form. However, the ultimate power was held by the Communist Party controlled by a small group of Ploitubro or the political bureau that made the Communist Party. During this era the Russian government was under a form of Totalitarianism government where the state owned everything and controlled all economical, social and political structures through the party. Despite the restructuring introduced by Gorbachev (Boris predecessor) and Boris himself the leadership continued along a totalitarian line till 1993 when Boris Yeltsin finally spearheaded a new constitution that was built under a very non-democratic environment, unlike the one witnessed in the U.S where states had to vote (Feldbrugge, 194). September, and thereafter, it was implemented on 21


Comparisons

Thus, as a start of reviewing the disparities, it is notable that the U.S constitution was initiated under very democratic terms where delegates had to vote and have the number of majority states define the ratification process. But what happened in Russia was a proposition from Yeltsin as a totalitarian leader initiating a constitution-which was similar to the French constitution-single handedly to parliament for ratification and literarily pushing it down their throat. Thus the Russian constitution was not made under a democratic situation. A large number of the disparities rather than the similarities within the constitution can be attributed to constitution making process. These disparities arose because of two reasons: the difference in political challenges that were faced during the making of the two constitutions and the differences in political backgrounds that defined the choices of the makers of the constitution (Mannheimer 1).


However, the two constitutions have a lot of similarities as per the moment in government structuring. Both constitutions are designed for federal governments which govern over regions or states within them which are granted some sovereignty. They both also give a governmental structure with three arms of government which consists of the judiciary, executive and legislature. They also provide for a leader of the executive and nation who is elected by nationwide voting. The two constitutions provide for a legislature that is bicameral in nature with lower house made of representatives elected by the people and an upper house made of made up of two representatives from every constituent state. The constitution of the U.S extensively defines Congressional powers but fails to highlight the presidents powers explicitly, but on the other hand; the Russian government explicitly outlines the powers of the president, but fails to explain well on the powers of the parliament (Pearl 72).


Unlike the Russian government that already had a solid nation the American states faced challenges of differences in opinions between the south and the north as well as other regions and there were also fears of consolidating a state by smaller states that felt they would be overshadowed in power. In order to avoid such cases and build trust the states decided to borrow the idea of checks and balances (French philosopher Montesquieu) and thus established a federal government whose power would be restricted (Mannheimer 1).


On the other hand, in Russia the sovereignty of both the executive and parliament had led to an impasse that would lead the state to failure and there was a need to form the constitution to avoid this state of disintegration among the regions that was imminent, however; there were still further fears among the people of losing the civil and economic liberties already in place as a result of restructuring. Having this fears and motivation the drafters decided to draft a constitution that would ensure a similar impasse never occurs, the president is granted more power (Driven by Boris Yeltsins interests),  federal supremacy re-affirmation and finally, the economic and civil rights had to be maintained (Feldbrugge, 279) .


The two constitutions have federal supremacy provisions under Article VI of the U.S constitution and under Articles 77, 15, 76, 5, 71 and 4 of the Russian constitution. However, the supremacy spheres in these governments may have different definitions. Article 1 section 8 defines jurisdictional authority given to Congress. Section 10 of the same article defines jurisdiction limited to the state, whereas; Article III section 2 shows entrusted litigations for the court courts at the federal level. These settings give the government mandate over national issues such as defense, international trade, relations and interstate dispute resolution. On the Russian, side the government is granted more mandates under article 71 and 72 compared to the U.S. These include protection and regulation of liberty and rights, control of issues of management, possession and use of natural resources, education, infrastructure, health and all local bodies-just to mention but a few. Article 76 makes the federal law supreme on these laws and thus the local laws should be adopted from the federal laws, thus leaving little room for autonomy (Feldbrugge, 85)


The rights of citizens in both constitutions such as the freedom of speech, religion and assembly, are much similar. Virtually, all rights within the U.S bill of rights are provided for in the Russian constitution. Equality among all citizens and the right to property are also provided. Notably, the Russian constitution offers more explicit explanations on the protection of some civil rights compared to the U.S constitution. For example it is prohibited (to use, gather, disseminate or store another persons personal information under Article 24, article 21 declares that no one should be subjected to torture, article 26 allows citizens to select their identity ethnically or racially and many more other explicit stipulations that are absent in the U.S constitution. The right to stop oppressive taxation is by far what was so interesting and positive among these numerous rights because it prevents the Russian government to tax oppressively (Mannheimer 1).


One other major distinction is the procedural nature of the U.S constitution in comparison to the Russian one. The U.S constitution goes into a lot of details explaining how every governmental or state procedure shall be carried out probably due to its earlier development on a democratic background. On the other hand, the Russian constitution is more open ended on most issues and it lacks procedural steps on most of its stipulations (Pearl, 39) .


Conclusion

Conclusively, both constitutions are well structured and they both belong to stable governments, but notably the U.S government is more stable historically because it has been less tumultuous and tends to adhere strictly to its constitution. On the other hand, the Russian constitution is equally good, but less structured procedural steps may hinder its proper implementation. However, it is good to note that the Russian constitution has an explicitly elaborated civil rights code that is seemingly better than that of the U.S government. Ultimately, there is no better constitution than the other, but rather its implementation, use and practice is what defines a peoples quality of life.


Works Cited/Bibliography

Feldbrugge, J. F. Russian. Law: The End of the Soviet System and the Role of Law, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1993, Print

Mannheimer, D. (2008),. A Comparison of the Russian and American Constitutions, 2008, Web, retrieved on 9th January 2011 from http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/forum/24/4winter2008/a_constitutionfull.html

Pearl, N. The U.S. Constitution, Picture Window Books, 2007, Print

 

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