Shigeru Yamaguchi, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, has described Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s security bills to bolster the role of Japanese forces abroad as going against the country’s pacifist Constitution.
“I would have to say the legislation to exercise the right to collective self-defense is unconstitutional,” Yamaguchi said Thursday during an interview. It is the first time a former chief justice has made such a remark.
The comment comes at a sensitive time as the government and ruling camp push ahead with the legislation despite strong criticism from the public, and may, political analysts say, add to ongoing debate about the constitutionality of the bills.
Many constitutional scholars have lashed the bills, which will also enable Japan to come to the aid of allies such as the United States even if Japan is not under attack.
Yamaguchi criticized the government and ruling camp for justifying the bills by referencing a 1959 top court ruling, and supplementary government view adopted in 1972, that they say allows Japan to take “necessary measures of self-defense.”
The 82-year-old Yamaguchi, who served as the chief justice for about five years from October 1997, described their arguments as “inconsistent” and “nonsense,” noting the government view in 1972 was that the use of collective self-defense was not allowed under the Constitution.
Abe’s Cabinet decided in July 2014 to reinterpret the Constitution, while stressing that Japan must respond to changes in the international security environment.
Yamaguchi said that if the government wanted to make such arguments, it should first admit that the 1972 statement was wrong.
As for the 1959 ruling at a trial commonly known as the Sunagawa case, Yamaguchi said he doubted it was issued on the premise that Japan can use the collective self-defense right.
“If reinterpretation is necessary to respond to the changes in the international (security) situation, there is no other way but to revise the Constitution,” he said.
Yamaguchi expressed his concern that reinterpreting the Constitution would undermine “constitutionalism,” saying that doing so would “make it impossible to control the use of power or protect citizens from arbitrary politics.”
The security bills are now being deliberated in the House of Councilors after the ruling coalition pressed them through the more powerful House of Representatives in July in the absence of the opposition.