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Under the Soviet constitutions of 1936 and 1977, the Supreme Soviet was imbued with great lawmaking powers. In practice, however, it did little more than rubber-stamp decisions already made by the Soviet Union's executive organs and the CPSU. This was in accordance with the CPSU principle of democratic centralism, and became the norm for other Communist legislatures.
The Supreme Soviet sat twice a year, usually for less than a week. For the rest of the year, the Presidium carried out its day-to-day functions. Often, the CPSU bypassed the Supreme Soviet altogether and had major laws enacted as Presidium decrees. Nominally, such decrees had to be ratified by the full Supreme Soviet-a process that was usually a mere formality. However, in some cases, even this formality was not observed.
After 1989 it consisted of 542 deputies (down from previously 1,500). The meetings of the body were also more frequent, from six to eight months a year.
Between 1938 and February 1990, more than 50 years, only 80 laws were passed by the Supreme Soviet, less than 1% of total legislative acts.
New composition 1991, (unofficially 13th convocation) unlike previous convocations, there were no elections for the new composition of the Supreme Council instead members of the council were delegated from the council of union republics that continued to be members of the Soviet Union.
Supreme councils of union and autonomous republics
Beside the Supreme Council, in the Soviet Union supreme councils also existed in each of the union and autonomous republics. The supreme councils of republican level also were headed by their presidiums, but all those councils consisted of one chamber. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, some councils of the succeeded independent republics simply changed their name to their historic or to emphasise the importance of the council as a national parliament, while others went through some major restructuring by changing to double-chamber assemblies. All republics in the Soviet Union were soviet (as soviet national), yet 15 were of union level, while the other, autonomous republics, were subordinated to the union republics.