Vittoria Barsotti was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts where she was raised in the first years of her life. Her family moved to Florence where she completed her education reading law at the University of Florence. However, American culture continued to influence her and drove her to research American law with a special focus on American constitutional law in a comparative perspective. As a student at the University of Florence she was fortunate enough to become part of the Florence Institute of Comparative Law, one of the most important centers of comparative studies, founded by Mauro Cappelletti, and continued by a strong group of scholars. Vittoria wrote her graduate thesis and subsequently her PhD dissertation on a crucial research topic related to the problems with case selection in the American Supreme Court in comparison with supreme/constitutional courts in civil law countries. Her supervisor was one of the most prominent members of the Florence center of comparative law, Vincenzo Varano, and it was through him that she met Guido Calabresi, a giant in contemporary American legal culture who became a precious point of reference and a source of enduring inspiration for Vittoria.
Vittoria has always been active both in research and administration. She became an associate professor at the University of Florence in 1999 and was elevated to the chair in 2004. She became the director of the Department of Comparative Law in 2005. Since then she has served her Institution in many prestigious positions and is presently the director of the PhD Program in Legal Science as well as Vice President of the Auditing Committee of the Scuola Superiore S. Anna in Pisa.
Vittoria is the author of several books: L’arte di tacere (1999), Privacy e orientamento sessuale (2005), Separatismo e laicità (2008), La tradizione giuridica occidentale. Testo e materiali per un confronto civil law common law, with Vincenzo Varano, (4th ed. 2010), which has become one of the leading comparative law textbooks in Italy and has been adopted in some twenty Universities. She also wrote a number of articles related to fundamental rights issues.
Vittoria has been a visiting professor at Northwestern University Law School (Chicago), Fordham University School of Law (New York) and Monash University Law School (Prato Center), and has lectured extensively in many cultural institutions around the world.
Vittoria is a member of a number of academic associations, in particular: the steering committee of the Società italiana per la ricerca in diritto comparato and the International Academy of Comparative law. She also is a member of the editorial board of the Annuario di diritto comparato e studi legislativi and as such co-edited with Professor Varano Volume 2011 of the Annuario dedicated to The New Role of Supreme Courts in the Political and Institutional Context: A Comparative Approach which collected a number of seminal contributions from leading experts worldwide. Subsequently, Vittoria organized a conference to discuss the content of the volume, which took place on November 4, 2011 at Villa La Pietra as the first in a series of La Pietra Dialogues in Comparative Law.
Vittoria is presently working on a book on The Italian System of Constitutional Justice in a Global Context. The book will be published in the U.S. Her co-authors are Professor Paolo Carozza of Notre Dame, Marta Cartabia, Professor at the University of Milano and presently a Judge on the Italian Constitutional Court, and Andrea Simoncini, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Florence.
Vittoria is married to Domenico Benussi, a practicing administrative lawyer in Florence. They have a lovely son named Lorenzo.
Vittoria loves cooking, reading and … tango dancing.
What does “Dialogue” mean to you?
From a very general perspective, I think that dialogue entails the idea of communication in order to reach a better understanding of each other. From my particular viewpoint, that of a person interested in constitutional law, it can be said that in the last decade two words have become the most recurrent topics in constitutional law studies: juristocracy and dialogue. Both words address the new role of Supreme, constitutional and supranational courts, in the current political and institutional context.
Both words concern primarily the new trend of the judicialization of politics - which means the increasing power of judges and their involvement into politics - and secondly the growing interaction between judicial actors in “a global and transnational community of judges”. More specifically, by using the word dialogue to describe judicial communication, scholars not only mean to reflect the idea of a formal exchange and convergence between courts through preliminary rulings, but they also refer to a more comprehensive phenomenon: in a globalized context, judge-made law circulates commonly, determining a constitutional migration of ideas, establishing a network of judicial actors and producing effects of cross-pollination and cross-fertilization, especially in the filed of protection of fundamental rights.
Does Law play a different role in American and European societies?
Scholars frequently state that judicial systems are nowadays facing a global convergence and in class with my students, following the title of a casebook that I co-authored, I like to use the broad definition “western legal tradition” together with the more traditional contraposition between Common law and Civil law. In fact, in both systems, law plays a great role in defining and shaping social life. Nevertheless, in the United States, given the presence of a written Constitution dated 1787 as well as other important political and institutional factors (as, for instance, judicial review of legislation by ordinary courts), some legal values such as the rule of law and fundamental rights and liberties are particularly strongly rooted.
What are some of the biggest differences in the way basic freedoms like religion, speech, and press are interpreted in Italy and the United States?
As previously said, today´s judicial systems are facing a global convergence. This is especially true in the field of constitutionalism. The dividing line between different legal systems is becoming blurry. Nonetheless, some peculiarities still exist, and those are particularly evident when it comes to the interpretation of basic freedoms.
As an example, we can consider religion. The return of religion to the cutting edge of world politics is another recent trend that each legal system has to take into account. That being said, the way the relationship between religion and state is regulated varies depending on the cultural background and the constitutional context. Thus, even though it is acquired in the United States as well as in Italy that each person has the right to freely profess any religion, there exist different constitutional models in which this right might be exercised.
The Constitution of the United States, according to the First Amendment, protects religious freedom assuring the free exercise of it and preventing the state from either endorsing or forbidding a religion. The First Amendment is actually made of a two clauses, which are often deemed to be in tension with each other. The interpretation of the two so called religious clauses has always been challenging for the Supreme Court, which has offered different approaches but which has never denied on the one hand the basic religious freedom, on the other hand the principle of separation between state and religion.
The Italian cultural and institutional setting is quite different. Following the Italian Constitution as interpreted by the Italian Constitutional court, our system should be governed by the fundamental principle of laicità, that is a principle that guarantees separation between church and state and that guarantees also freedom for al religions. The principle of laicità must be read together with a principle that we can define as “cooperation” or “dialogue” between secular institutions and religious confessions. The Italian Constitution guarantees under art. 8 that all religious confessions are equally free before the law and assures under art. 19 the right of all to profess their religious faith. The Italian Constitution thus acknowledges the existence of different religions and creates a common ground of dialogue with the state. Nevertheless, given the peculiar Italian history and the special relation between the State and the Catholic Church, the principle of laicità is not always effectively and efficiently implemented.
What have you taken away from your experience at Villa la Pietra?
Villa la Pietra is a special environment, rich of history, art and culture. I think that the many interesting events that are organized at Villa la Pietra contribute to the enrichment of the intellectual life of Florence and foster a better understanding between the Italian and the American communities.