The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislative branches.
Italy has been a democratic republic since 2 June 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum (see birth of the Italian Republic). The constitution was promulgated on 1 January 1948.
The current President of Italy is Giorgio Napolitano and current Prime Minister of Italy is Mario Monti.
The 1948 Constitution of Italy establishes the parliament, an executive branch (cabinet), headed by the President of the Council (prime minister), and an independent judicial branch headed by the 'Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura'.
The President is the head of state, though his position is separate from all branches.
As the head of state, the President of the Republic represents the unity of the nation and has many of the duties previously given to the king of Italy.
The president serves as a point of connection between the three branches: he is elected by the lawmakers, he appoints the executive, and is the president of the judiciary. The president is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
The President of the Republic is elected by Parliament in joint session, together with three representatives of each region (except for the Aosta Valley, which gets only one representative) in such a way as to guarantee representation to minorities.
His election needs a wide majority that is progressively reduced from two-thirds to one-half plus one of the votes as the ballots progress.
The only Presidents ever to be elected on the first ballot are Francesco Cossiga and Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Mr. Ciampi was replaced by Giorgio Napolitano, who was elected on 10 May 2006. While it is not forbidden by law, no president has ever served two terms.
Usually, the President tries to stay out of the political debate, and to be an institutional guarantee for all those involved in the political process.
The president can also reject openly anti-constitutional acts as the guardian of the Constitution of Italy.
The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law, the Napoleonic code and later statutes. It is based on a mix of the adversarial and inquisitorial civil law systems, although the adversarial system was adopted in the Appeal Courts in 1988.
Appeals are treated almost as new trials, and three degrees of trial are present. The third is a legitimating trial.
There is only partial judicial review of legislation in the American sense. Judicial review exists under certain conditions in the Constitutional Court, or Corte Costituzionale, which can reject anti-constitutional laws after scrutiny.
The Constitutional Court is composed of 15 judges one of which is the President of the Italian Constitutional Court elected from the court itself.
One third of the judges are appointed by the President of the Italian Republic, one-third are elected by Parliament and one-third are elected by the ordinary and administrative supreme courts.
The Constitutional Court passes on the constitutionality of laws, and is a post-World War II innovation. Its powers, case load, and frequency of decisions are not as extensive as those of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Italy has not accepted compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.
Italy's dramatic self-renewal transformed the political landscape between 1992 and 1997.
Scandal investigations touched thousands of politicians, administrators, and businessmen; the shift from a proportional to an Additional Member System (with the requirement to obtain a minimum of 4% of the national vote to obtain representation) also altered the political landscape.
Party changes were sweeping. The Christian Democratic party dissolved; the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center emerged. Other major parties, such as the Socialists, saw support plummet.
A new liberal movement, Forza Italia, gained wide support among moderate voters. The Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) broke from the (alleged neo-fascist) Italian Social Movement (MSI).
A trend toward two large coalitions (one on the center-left and the other on the center-right) emerged from the April 1995 regional elections.
For the 1996 national elections, the center-left parties created the Olive Tree coalition while the center-right united again under the House of Freedoms. These coalitions continued into the 2001 and 2006 national elections.