A Building and a Court
La Consulta is the term often used to refer to the Constitutional Court, and is taken from the name of the Court’s official residence at the Palazzo della Consulta in Piazza del Quirinale in Rome. The Palazzo della Consulta is an eighteenth-century building of great architectural beauty. Its physical location is an excellent symbolic expression of the institutional position of the Constitutional Court: it stands on Rome’s highest hill, the Colle del Quirinale opposite the Palazzo del Quirinale, official residence of the President of the Republic – the supreme representative institution of the Italian state, and appointed, like the Court, primarily to act as an impartial guarantor of the constitutional system – and at some distance from the buildings of “political” Rome and “judicial” Rome. Although the Court interacts with the world of politics, it is not itself a political institution in the strict sense. Its function is not to represent citizens by promoting policies or interests that they (or a majority of them) endorse at any given moment, but to guarantee universal respect for the basic law of the Republic, the Constitution. In carrying out this task, the Court also interacts with the Italian judiciary, but is not itself entirely a judicial institution either.
From the Papacy, to the Monarchy, to the Republic
From its construction until 1870, the Palazzo della Consulta was the
seat of the Sacra Consulta, an ecclesiastical body with both civil and criminal
jurisdiction. On the wall of one of its rooms one can still read the text
of sentences meted out by the Sacra Consulta for crimes committed within
the Papal States.
When Rome became pabrrt of the Kingdom of Italy in 1870, and the Palazzo del Quirinale became the official residence of the King, the Consulta was for a certain period the official residence of the royal heir, Prince Umberto of Savoy (the future King Umberto I) and his wife Margherita, and many of the decorations in the palace date to this period. Subsequently, it became the seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and, after the transferral of the Ministry to Palazzo Chigi (before it moved to “la Farnesina”), the seat of the Ministry for the Colonies of Italy in Africa. At the end of the Second World War, when Italy’s colonies had been lost, the Ministry was abolished, but its offices continued to occupy the building until 1955. In 1955, the building became the official seat of the newly formed Court.