Italy. The Constitutional Court has postponed a hearing on the legality of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s signature reform until after the referendum.

Italian court leaves electoral law to the people

It is better not to make a decision: The Italian Constitutional Court postponed the hearing on Italicum until Oct. 4. It was a political move concealed behind the stated intention not to interfere with the political calendar, that is, with the constitutional referendum.

The date of the referendum, Nov. 27 or Dec. 4, will finally be announced by the government on Monday. But at this point, the voters will have to decide on the new constitution without the judgment of the judges on the other leg of Renzi’s reforms, which is the electoral law.

The predictable failure on the eve of the referendum would have been a blow too heavy for the government. Renzi had staked his trust on Italicum. Analysts spoke of “harm reduction,” according to which a positive judgment on Italicum issue would have clarified to voters that the electoral law needed to be changed and thus would have helped Renzi in his “Yes” referendum campaign. But it would not be and could not be positive because Italicum has many defects in common with the old electoral law, already dismantled by the judges. Thus, the postponement.

A postponement with political nuances is unusual for the court.

It comes just two weeks before a hearing confirmed many times. Faced with repeated pressure, Constitutional Court President Paolo Grossi met Monday in plenum and noted a majority in favor of postponement. A slight but combative majority, led by Judges Amato and Barbera, the latter of whom is among the most enthusiastic about Renzi’s reforms.

The Court did not state the reasons for postponement. We must resort to rumors and formal pretexts, which abound.

However, these same pretexts were invoked in April, when, in a show of autonomy, Grossi scheduled a hearing on Italicum for Oct. 4. Renzi has always feared this decision, so much so that before the summer, he had even thought about circumventing it by holding the referendum on Oct. 2, just before the hearing. But his plans changed when he realized he needed time to climb up in the polls.

The Court eliminated the problem by a majority of judges. This forced the president to step backward. It had been tempting for some time (il manifesto foresaw it more than a month ago here and here) but until Monday, Grossi had held his ground.

If the Court waits for the result of the referendum, it will be able to know the institutional framework in which Italicum would possibly apply, with one or two elective chambers. And above all, the political framework, with Renzi either a winner or a loser.

A victory for “Yes” would also open the way for the action of parliamentary minorities on the whole of the electoral law.

It is a measure effective immediately, so in the case of popular approval of the reform, you can be sure that within 10 days, 158 deputies and 107 senators will ask for the “precautionary” judgment on the legitimacy of Italicum, and the Court would have to issue its opinion within 30 days. That is, by January. Which means that if “Yes” wins, Monday’s decision is more than a postponement, it is a waiver of the constitutional judges of their duty to comment on the points raised by the courts.

Three postponement petitions had been sent to the Court, two of which — from Messina and Turin — were entered on the list for the hearing on Oct. 4, now postponed. The third one, Perugia, was not sent on time (it was sent 11 days ago), and it could be ultimately one of the formal reasons for the postponement. But only from a technical point of view, since the questions of constitutionality raised by the Perugia court are exactly the same as those raised by the Turin judge.

But other courts (13 are still on the “reserved” phase) may be added at this point. Meanwhile, Renzi has managed to give the impression that he wants to renegotiate Italicum, although nothing concrete will happen before the referendum. Unless the discussion began Monday on the motion initiated by the Italian Left, at this point it’s also useful to the government.

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