Japan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled constitutional a disparity of up to 3.00 times in the weight of a single vote between the most and least populated constituencies in an Upper House election last year.
Following 16 conflicting rulings from lower courts, the top court rejected the plaintiffs’ demand for the outcomes of the House of Councilors election held on July 21, 2019, to be nullified.
“The value of each vote was not in a state of extreme inequality,” the presiding justice, Naoto Otani, said, recognizing efforts made by parliament to redress the disparity.
Among the 15 justices of the top court’s Grand Bench, 10 ruled the 2019 Upper House election as constitutional, while three said it was unconstitutional.
Two groups of lawyers had filed a series of lawsuits with 14 high courts and their branches across Japan, claiming the vote weight disparity violated the Constitution’s requirement for fair elections in terms of seats being proportional to the number of voters.
The high court rulings were divided. Out of 16 lawsuits, 14 rulings said the gap was constitutional, while the two others said the election was held “in a state of unconstitutionality.”
None of the rulings favored the plaintiffs’ demand to nullify the election results, in which Miyagi Prefecture had the largest number of voters per candidate and Fukui Prefecture had the least.
After Japan’s parliament passed legislation in 2018 to add six seats to the upper chamber and redraw electoral districts, the overall vote weight disparity was reduced to 3.00 from the 3.08 marked in the previous Upper House election in 2016.
In 2017, the top court ruled the 2016 Upper House election was constitutional.
The top court previously ruled that the 2010 and 2013 Upper House elections — in which the weight gap reached up to 5.00 and 4.77 times, respectively — were held in a state of unconstitutionality, urging the Diet to review the demarcation of electoral districts.
Upper House constituencies were originally demarcated based on the nation’s 47 prefectures.
But, in 2015, the country redrew them by merging two pairs of less-populated prefectures in western Japan — Tottori and neighboring Shimane as well as Tokushima and neighboring Kochi — into two electoral districts.
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