National

Tokyo District Court holds first hearing on expats’ right to vote on Supreme Court justices

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

Five Japanese living abroad claimed at the Tokyo District Court on Monday that their inability to participate in national reviews of Supreme Court justices was unconstitutional.

“I’ve always felt that voting is my right and duty,” Kazuhiro Soda, a documentary filmmaker based in New York, told the hearing.

“Even though I have a Japanese passport, I couldn’t participate in the review just because I lived in the United States. I found it frustrating and also very strange,” he added.

The assertion surfaced in the first hearing of their lawsuit against the government, which was filed at the court in April. The plaintiffs are demanding that the state recognize their right to participate in the so-called votes of confidence.

Supreme Court justices are subject to review at the first general election after their appointments and every 10 years after that. While Japanese living abroad can participate in national elections, they are barred from taking part in the review of the justices.

The five said they could not participate in the national review in 2017, which coincided with the general election that year, because they were living abroad and were not sent ballots.

Soda and the other plaintiffs are also asking the court to rule that the Diet’s refusal to change the Public Offices Election Act is unconstitutional, especially in light of its 2011 ruling that found expats’ inability to participate in the reviews to be “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

“It is unacceptable that the voting rights of some people are limited simply because they live outside of the country,” said Kyoko Yoshida, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, at the hearing.

Referring to the 2011 ruling, Yoshida said the state neglected its duty to act “despite knowing that the law was not constitutional.”

The government claimed the question of whether Japanese citizens have the right to vote abroad “is at the discretion of the legislature” and should not be disputed in court.

In 1998, the Public Offices Election Act was revised to give expats the right to vote in national elections. But the revision did not allow them to participate in the national reviews.

Despite the district court’s 2011 finding that found the constitutionality of the revision “highly questionable,” the Diet did not take any measures to address the issue. Between 2011 and 2017, the national review was held three times.

As of 2017, some 1.35 million Japanese were residing abroad, according to the Annual Report of Statistics on Japanese Nationals Overseas released by the Foreign Ministry.