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‘Do You Ever Have One of Those Days When Everything Seems Unconstitutional?’: The Italian Constitutional Court Strikes Down the Electoral Law Once Again: Italian Constitutional Court Judgment of 9 February 2017 No. 35

  • Pietro Faraguna




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Post-doc in Public Law, Department of Political Science, LUISS Guido Carli University of Rome.



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1 Corte costituzionale, judgment of 13 January 2014 No. 1.

2 Longo, E. and Pin, A., ‘Judicial Review, Election Law, and Proportionality’, 6 Notre Dame Journal of International & Comparative Law (2016) p. 101 at p. 105. However, the political landscape of the framers was certainly inspired by a proportional representation system. A proportional representation mindset not only emerged in the composition of the Constituent Assembly, but also in several political statements approved by the Constituent Assembly. On 23 September 1947, the Constituent Assembly approved an order containing guidelines (ordine del giorno), stating that ‘the Constituent Assembly holds that the election of members of the Chamber of Deputies shall be based on a proportional representation system’. A similar act of political direction was previously discussed in the II subcommittee on 8 November 1946.

3 On these developments, see further Fusaro, C., ‘Party System Developments and the Electoral Legislation in Italy (1948-2009)’, 1 Bulletin of Italian Politics (2009) p. 49 .

4 In 1953, the Christian Democratic majority in Parliament transformed the electoral system, making it majoritarian. An electoral list needed to obtain at least 50% of the votes cast to obtain a two-third majority of seats, but the Christian Democratic Party failed to reach that threshold. The act was later repealed by Parliament. On this early attempt to transform the electoral system, see extensively Quagliariello, G., La legge elettorale del 1953 [The Electoral Law of 1953] (Il Mulino 2003).

5 The system can be defined as a ‘majority-assuring proportional system’ (according to the classifications outlined by Shugart, M. and Wattenberg, M. P., Mixed-Member Electoral Systems: The Best of Both Worlds? (Oxford University Press 2001) p. 598 . In this sense, see Fusaro, supra n. 3, p. 58; A. Baraggia and L.P. Vanoni, ‘The Italian Electoral Law Saga: Judicial Activism or Judicial Subsidiarity’, STALS Research Paper (2017) p. 1 at p. 8.

6 The non-literal and effective translation is by Piccirilli, G., ‘Maintaining a 4 percent electoral threshold for European elections, in order to clarify access to constitutional justice in electoral matters: Italian Constitutional Court judgment of 14 May 2015 no. 110’, 12 EuConst (2016) p. 164 at p. 168.

7 On the anachronistic methods of keeping candidates’ names (in)accessible to voters, see N. Lupo, ‘Nell’era della comunicazione digitale, è mai possibile che il nome dei candidati alle elezioni politiche si conosca solo mediante l’affissione del manifesto elettorale?’ [In the Digital Era, is it Ever Possible that the Names of Candidates in General Elections are only Accessible through the Publication of Electoral Posters?], Forumcostituzionale, 30 March 2006, available at <>, visited 31 July 2017.

8 On the flaws of this electoral law and their impact on institutional life, see Longo and Pin, supra n. 2, p. 106. On the detrimental effects of the dysfunctional electoral law on the political landscape after the general elections of 2013, see Pasquino, G. and Valbruzzi, M., ‘Post-Electoral Politics in Italy: Institutional Problems and Political Perspectives’, 18 Journal of Modern Italian Studies (2013) p. 466 ; Lupo, N. and Piccirilli, G., ‘Introduzione. I percorsi delle riforme istituzionali nella XVII legislatura’ [Introduction. The Paths of Institutional Reforms in the XVII Legislature], in N. Lupo and G. Piccirilli (eds.), Legge elettorale e riforma costituzionale: procedure parlamentari «sotto stress» [Electoral Law and Constitutional Reform: Parliamentary Procedures under Pressure] (Il Mulino 2016) p. 14 .

9 For an overview of civil challenges in this matter, see Piccirilli, supra n. 6, p. 168-169.

10 Corte costituzionale, judgments of 30 January 2008, Nos. 15 and 16.

11 Among many others, a prominent former President of the Court noted that in times past such a judgment would have been ‘unconceivable’: see Zagrebelsky, G., ‘La sentenza n. 1 del 2014 e i suoi commentatori’ [Judgment no. 1 of 2014 and its commentators], 58 Giurisprudenza costituzionale (2014) p. 2259 at p. 2959.

12 The nickname followed the journalistic habit of nicknaming electoral laws by Latinising the name of the main political proponent of the law (this is the case for Mattarellum), or one of its essential features (this is the case for Porcellum as illustrated above). The nickname Italicum emphasised the peculiar character of a mixed form of government (proportional in its formula and majoritarian in its effects) that was held as an ‘Italian model of government’: R. D’Alimonte, ‘La formazione elettorale dei governi’ [The Electoral Formation of Governments], Il Filangieri (2010) p. 56.

13 For further details on these procedural anomalies, see E. Gianfrancesco, ‘Il logoramento del diritto parlamentare nell’approvazione della legge n. 52 del 2015 in un periodo di “grandi riforme”’ [The Decay of Parliamentary Law in the Approval of Law No. 52/2015 in Times of Major Reforms], in N. Lupo and G. Piccirilli (eds.), supra n. 8, p. 133.

14 Baraggia, A., ‘Italian Electoral Law: A Story of an Impossible Transition?’, 16 Election Law Journal (2017) p. 272 at p. 273.

15 On the connection between the electoral and constitutional reforms, see further Stradella, E., ‘Italy after the Constitutional Referendum: Legal and Political Scenarios, from the Public Debate to the “Electoral Question”’, 61 Italian Law Journal (2017) p. 61 at p. 65-66.

16 In this sense, see R. Bin, ‘Chi è responsabile delle “zone franche”? Note sulle leggi elettorali davanti alla Corte’ [Who is Reponsible for ‘Free Zones’? Remarks on electoral laws before the Court], Forumcostituzionale, 9 June 2017, available at <>, visited 26 July 2017.

17 Corte costituzionale, judgment of 9 February 2017 No. 35, Conclusions on point of law, para. 6.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid., para. 9.2.

20 Ibid.

21 The Court added that the judgment of unconstitutionality of the provisions under review has no bearing on the system of second-round voting in place in large cities, which has already passed constitutional scrutiny. See 175 of 2014 and the related comment by R. Bifulco, ‘Brevissime considerazioni sul rapporto tra la sentenza della Corte costituzionale 1/2014 e le legislazioni elettorali regionali’ [Brief Considerations on the relationship between the Constitutional Court’s Judgment 1/2014 and Regional Electoral Laws], 1 Nomos (2013) p. 1; A-O. Cozzi, ‘Gli effetti della sentenza n. 1 del 2014 sui premi di maggioranza regionali’ [The Judgment 1/2014 Effects on Regional Majority Bonuses], 59 Giurisprudenza Costituzionale (2014) p. 4167; G. Perniciaro, ‘I premi di maggioranza previsti dalle leggi elettorali regionali alla luce della sentenza n. 1 del 2014 della Corte costituzionale’ [Majority Bonuses in Regional Electoral Legislation in Light of the Constitutional Court’s Judgment 1/2014], in Scritti in onore di Antonio d’Atena [Festschrift in Honour of Antonio d’Atena], vol. 3 (Giuffrè 2015) p. 2399.

22 Corte costituzionale, judgment of 9 February 2017 No. 35, Conclusions on point of law, para. 6.

23 This requirement was developed by the Court in the field of decisions on the admissibility of referendums, where the Court stated that laws ‘needed for the correct working of constitutional bodies’ are outside the scope of referendums. In these fields, only partially abrogative referendums are admissible, as long as the abrogation coming from the referendum does not leave the country without any workable electoral law: see Barsotti, V. et al., Italian Constitutional Justice in Global Context (Oxford University Press 2016) p. 51 .

24 In this sense, see Corte costituzionale 1/2014, and in regard to the admissibility of referendums on electoral laws, see 13/2012, 16 and 15/2008.

25 This implies that the Constitutional Court will not declare a rule unconstitutional if the result is that the remaining electoral rules do not give a workable electoral system.

26 Corte costituzionale, judgment of 13 January 2014 No. 1, para. 3.1, conclusions on point of law.

27 BVerfGE, 13 February 2008, 2 BvK 1/07.

28 BVerfGE, 22 October 1951, 1, 208.

29 BVerfGE, 28 September 1990, 82, 322; BVerfGE, 3 July 2008, 2 BvC 1/07; BVerfGE 25 July 2012, 2 BvF 3/11

30 BVerfGE, 26 February 2014, 2 BvE 2, 5-10, 12/13, 2 BvR 2220, 2221, 2238/13; BVerfGE, 9 November 2011, 2 BvC 4/10 (overruling BVerfGE, 22 May 1979). On the decisions of 2011 and 2014, see Michel, B., ‘Thresholds for the European Parliament Elections in Germany Declared Unconstitutional Twice’, 12 EuConst (2016) p. 133-147 .

31 See German Federal Constitutional Court, BVerfGE 25 July 2012, 2 BvF 3/11.

32 This assumption was partly triggered by the decision of the Constitutional Court to delay the date of its decision, initially scheduled before 4 December 2016, and finally re-scheduled in January 2017.

33 Corte costituzionale, Judgment of 9 February 2017 No. 35, Conclusions on point of law, para. 9.2.

34 Ivi, para. 15.2.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid., para. 6.

38 Corte costituzionale, Judgment of 9 February 2017 No. 35, Conclusions on point of law, para. 11.2.

39 See Corte costituzionale, Judgments of 30 January 2008, Nos. 15 and 16.

40 Cf. Fraenkel, E., ‘Verfassungsreform und Sozialdemokratie’, in E. Fraenkel, Zur Soziologie der Klassenjustiz, und Aufsätze zur Verfassungskrise 1931-32 (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1968) p. 89 at p. 102.

* Post-doc in Public Law, Department of Political Science, LUISS Guido Carli University of Rome.

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