Italy’s Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States: How do these highest courts in the land match up?
On the most fundamental level, the differences that exist between the highest courts of Italy and the United States reflect their respective legal systems; Italy based on a civil law system and the United States on a common law one. Italy’s Supreme Court (proper name is “Corte di Cassazione”), like its lower courts, is bound to a normative system of law that dictates the rulings of every case it hears. In other words, judges in the Italian system are there more to apply the law than interpret it. In the Italian jurisdictional system, each case is considered separately and cannot therefore become automatically the basis of judicial precedent for future cases, though rulings may prove authoritative enough to influence future decisions in similar cases. Precedent plays a much larger role in the US system, where rulings from the Supreme Court follow the doctrine of stare decisis. Under this doctrine the ruling of a previous case is either binding or highly persuasive when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts.
Another area where the courts differ significantly is caseload. In 2018 the Italian Supreme Court heard over 35,000 cases, while the US Supreme Court heard only 70 in the same time frame. The discrepancy is due to the fact that the Italian Supreme Court hears every appeal that arrives from the Appellate Court, determining if the law was applied correctly but not rendering a judgment on the facts of the case. The US Supreme Court, meanwhile, is very selective about the cases it hears, usually only selecting those which would resolve a conflict of interpretation, an egregious departure from judicial proceedings, or an important question of federal law. Unlike its Italian counterpart, the US Supreme Court evaluates both the application of the law and the facts of the case. Due to the sizable gap in caseload, the compositions of the courts are quite different as well. The Italian Supreme Court has over 100 judges in its civil and criminal sections, while the US Supreme Court has only nine justices.