The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling against the Okinawa Prefectural Government over the relocation of a U.S. military base within the southernmost prefecture.

The first petty bench of the top court backed a decision by the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court last March that found the land minister ordering Okinawa to approve design changes in the construction plan for the relocation was legal.

The decision by presiding Justice Masaaki Oka may help accelerate the relocation work as it requires the prefectural government to approve the design changes.

In 2020, the Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau applied for the design changes to the construction plan following the discovery of soft ground in the Henoko coastal area in the Okinawa city of Nago set for landfill work.

The landfill work is part of the government's plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Air Station Futenma in the Okinawa city of Ginowan to a replacement facility that will be built in the Henoko area.

The Okinawa side rejected the application in 2021, citing what it said was insufficient work on disaster prevention. In 2022, the land minister nullified the prefecture's rejection in 2022.

But the prefecture did not comply with the minister's decision, prompting the minister to order the prefecture to approve the design changes.

Claiming that the minister's move was illegal, the Okinawa government launched a lawsuit seeking its withdrawal.

The prefectural government may not abide by the ruling by the Supreme Court. The central government may take administrative action to approve the design changes on behalf of the prefectural government.