To say that courts or judges in a country are powerful usually means three things: first, that courts have effective jurisdiction that reaches at least some politically sensitive matters or affects the working of the rest of government; second, that both the public and government respect the courts and their performance and readily turn to them for the resolution of problems; and third, that judges have institutions of their own through which they can influence public policy, especially in areas relating to their work. In none of these senses of "power" were courts or judges powerful in the Soviet period. For most of Soviet history courts had a highly restricted role in assessing the legality of administrative actions; they had no significant constitutional jurisdiction; and they played a limited role in commercial disputes and the management of criminal investigations. On the whole, the prestige of courts was low, among public and officialdom alike. Judges lacked any professional associations or bodies through which they could share concerns and express positions on policy matters.
In post-Soviet Russia, this portrait of weak courts and powerless judges has changed to a considerable degree. To begin, there has been a revolution in the jurisdiction of courts, such that courts of one kind or another now scrutinize the legality of officials' actions and the constitutionality of legislation, resolve commercial disputes, review decisions about pre-trial detention, and enforce a variety of citizens' rights. Furthermore, the community of judges has succeeded in forming a set of institutions -- among them a congress of judges and councils of judges on the national and regional/republican levels -- which, while lacking