The Supreme Court on Nov. 20 ruled that the 2012 Lower House election was “in a state of unconstitutionality” due to large disparities in vote value among constituencies. It stopped short of declaring the election outright unconstitutional by adopting a nuanced phrase of “in a state of unconstitutionality” and refrained from invalidating the election results. But the Diet and the government should not use the ruling as an excuse for inaction. Instead they should immediately start working out a way to drastically reduce disparities in vote values.
Two groups of lawyers had filed the lawsuit contending that the Lower House election held in December 2012 should be declared unconstitutional since the gap in the value of a vote between depopulated rural areas and populated urban areas grew to a maximum 2.43 to 1, the highest in a decade. The election returned the Liberal Democratic Party to power.
In March 2011, the Supreme Court had ruled that the August 2009 Lower House election was in a state of unconstitutionality. In the election, which brought the Democratic Party of Japan to power, the maximum gap in vote value was 2.30 to 1.
In 14 of the 16 lawsuits filed in connection with the 2012 Lower House election, high courts or high court branches had found the election unconstitutional. In March 2013, the Hiroshima High Court even went on to declare that the election results in the Hiroshima Nos. 1 and 2 constituencies were null and void.
The Supreme Court should have ruled that the 2012 Lower House election was unconstitutional in view of the constitutional principle that all the people are equal under the law. Instead, it came out with a rather soft ruling by taking into consideration rectification steps taken by the Diet.
The March 2011 Supreme Court ruling had demanded abolition of a system of automatically giving each of the 47 prefectures one seat and then distributing remaining seats among constituencies in accordance with population size. The top court thought that this system favored more sparsely populated rural areas.
On Nov. 24, 2012, the day that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the Lower House, the Diet enacted a law that deleted the system mentioned by the top court and reduced one Lower House seat in five prefectures — Fukui, Yamanashi, Tokushima, Kochi and Saga. But the law was not applied to the coming Lower House election since the Diet failed to work out the necessary reapportionment in time. A new reapportionment law, reducing the maximum gap in vote value to 1.998 to 1, wasn’t enacted until June 2013.
The Diet and the government must pay attention to what the Nov. 20 top court ruling said: The probability is high that a growing population shift to urban areas will widen the gap to more than 2 to 1. Three of the 14 justices who wrote the ruling were of the opinion that the apportionment in the 2012 Lower House election was unconstitutional. The Diet and the government should develop an election system that equitably reflects demographic changes.