Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida resigned Monday over his frank but offensive statement about his Cabinet job. His careless words not only cost him his position but have damaged the credibility of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who appointed him to the Cabinet post.

In a Nov. 14 speech at a gathering of supporters in Hiroshima, Mr. Yanagida said that to cope with questions in the Diet, a justice minister only has to memorize and repeat two phrases — “I would like to refrain from making a statement on a particular case” and “We are doing our best in accordance with the law and evidence.” In short, he basically said that a justice minister’s job is easy.

Mr. Yanagida also told his supporters that he was surprised to be appointed as justice minister because he had no experience in legal affairs for the past 20 years. Perhaps he lowered his guard because he was speaking in a gathering to celebrate his appointment as justice minister, but his statement gave the impression that he was making light of both his job and Diet discussions.

Mr. Kan’s judgment will be called into question for appointing Mr. Yanagida to the position of justice minister in the first place and for not dismissing him immediately after he made his gaffes. For several days, the prime minister was leaning toward retaining him in the position.

Mr. Yanagida resigned because the opposition forces were getting ready to pass a censure resolution against him in the Upper House. The opposition forces are now poised to submit censure resolutions against Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku over his insensitive statement that the Self-Defense Forces are an “apparatus of violence” and against transport minister Sumio Mabuchi over his allegedly poor handling of the Senkaku incident.

Both the ruling and opposition blocks should focus less on partisan politics and more on passing legislation that will help Japan overcome its daunting economic and foreign policy problems. They should ensure that discussions on the fiscal 2010 supplementary budget — the most important agenda in the current Diet session — go smoothly so it can be passed as soon as possible.

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