The Supreme Court ruled for a second time Wednesday that a nearly 5-1 disparity in the value of votes from different prefectures is constitutional — despite the fact that the Constitution mandates equality among voters.
The decision makes final a Tokyo High Court ruling from last year in which it dismissed an appeal by a group of voters from Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures who claimed that revised seat allocations for prefectural constituencies of the House of Representatives violate the Constitution.
In the July 1998 House of Councilors election, voters in rural districts had 4.98 times more power at the ballot box than voters in densely populated prefectures.
But the top court ruled this nearly 5-1 ratio is tolerable and does not go beyond the boundary of the legislature’s discretion.
Of the top court’s 15 justices who heard the case, Shigeru Yamaguchi and nine others said the wide disparity did not violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equality, while the remaining five said the electoral system was unconstitutional.
While admitting that the Constitution calls for votes to be of equal value, the court’s ruling concluded that the 5-1 disparity was not unconstitutional.
Yamaguchi, who presided over the Grand Bench, said the difference was not sufficiently large enough to be regarded as unconstitutional.
He did not indicate what size disparity might be large enough to be unconstitutional.
Wednesday’s decision was in line with the top court’s ruling in September 1998 on the constitutionality of an Upper House election in 1995, the first poll held after the electoral boundaries were redrawn.
There was a maximum disparity of 4.97 to 1 in the 1995 election, which the top court ruled in September 1998 was also constitutional.
In that ruling, the court said the allocation of Upper House members among the 47 prefectural constituencies reflects the uniqueness of the chamber.
It went on to say that the disparities should have been alleviated in 1994 when the Diet adjusted the number of Upper House members to be elected from each constituency.
Suits demanding the nullification of election results begin before high courts and skip district courts before going on to the Supreme Court, whose ruling is final.
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