Spending a semester away from the United States has me in somewhat of a political limbo. I have tried and (and failed) to stay up until 3 in the morning to watch the first presidential debate. I voluntarily wake up to a barrage of CNN notifications every morning. Nothing seems sufficient to maintain a real sense of the current state of our nation.
I have taken the semester to step back and reflect while studying in Rome. This has been an opportunity to compare the country I am currently in, Italy, with the one that I am from, the U.S. I had this realization while in my Contemporary Politics of Europe class. My Professor asked us what was going on with our Supreme Court, in comparison to the Italian Supreme Court. This garnered quite a few laughs. Italy is known for the instability and inefficiency that their government experiences. Yet, even my Italian professor was perplexed by our system and the impact that it holds on the delivery of justice in the U.S.
In Italy there are 15 justices in the Supreme Court, or Constitutional Court of Italy. The President, Parliament, and lower courts each respectively nominate 5 each. I tried explaining the U.S. process to my professor. However, at the very beginning of our conversation, I could already see the flaws in our own system.
Our President, who represents just one of our political parties, nominates all of our nine justices. The argument can be made, because of this fact, that the nomination is an expression of a singular voice. Next, to make the process slightly more democratic, the nomination is kicked over to the Senate. In theory, this makes the decision more representative of our populace. In practice, it causes the block that we find ourselves in. Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court should not be so much of a political statement. It should be a simple function of our government. The composition of our Supreme Court is an expression of few voices, on the odd chance that the few voices agree.
In Italy, the justices serve for 9-year terms. In the U.S., each of our nine justices has a seat on the bench for an indefinite amount of time. As a result, a U.S. justice may hold their seat until death, retirement, or in the rare case, impeachment. There is no denying the political nature of the Supreme Court, try as hard as we might. If we in the U.S. experienced a rate of turnover similar to that of Italy’s system, it might allow for delivery of more current opinions and political expression. This might work better, rather than having a court that falls on the side of one party for many years.
Rome is, as some argue, the birthplace of law. What better place to look to for comparison? Italy’s system pulls from different parts of the government to fill the Constitutional Court seats. This seems like a fix to the polarizing process of nominating a justice in the United States. Not to mention, it might lessen the effect that such a contentious election cycle has on our judicial branch. Perhaps this is optimal, instead of putting the power to nominate in the hands of the President alone.
One could also argue that the Italian system allows an inclusion of more diverse opinions. It would seem to ensure that a block on a nomination such as Merrick Garland’s does not occur. That is not to say that every system does not have its flaws – as I am sure the Italian system does. However, the nature of our Supreme Court causes an arguably hyper-politicized institution of justice. It is delivered by few but affecting many.