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U.S. coerced court in ’59 base case

Kyodo News

The U.S. ambassador to Japan in 1959 pressured Japanese officials to overrule a lower court decision calling the U.S. military presence unconstitutional, according to recently declassified documents.

Ambassador Douglas MacArthur II, concerned about the ruling by the Tokyo District Court, pressed Foreign Minister Aiichiro Fujiyama to appeal the case directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the high court, and held backroom talks with Kotaro Tanaka, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the documents showed.

MacArthur was a nephew of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the Allied Occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951.

At the center of the matter was a 1957 incident, known as the Sunakawa case, in which seven people were arrested that July after demonstrating against an expansion of the U.S. military base in Tachikawa, Tokyo.

On March 30, 1959, in finding them not guilty, the district court also noted that the U.S. military presence in Japan violated the pacifist Constitution.

In a telegraph sent to the U.S. State Department the following day, MacArthur wrote that he met with Fujiyama earlier in the day and “stressed importance of GOJ (government of Japan) taking speedy action to rectify ruling by Tokyo District Court.”

He added, “I expressed view that ruling not only created complications for security treaty discussions to which Fujiyama attaches such importance but also may create confusion in minds of public” and urged the Japanese government to bring it directly to the Supreme Court.

A telegraph from MacArthur to Washington that April 24 also showed the chief justice of the Supreme Court had contacted him.

The Supreme Court on Dec. 16, 1959, dismissed the district court decision and sent the case back to a lower court. Those arrested were eventually found guilty.

The telegraph and other related documents were found by Shoji Niihara, an expert on Japan-U.S. relations, in April at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.