For the third time this decade, a majority of the Supreme Court Grand Bench has ruled that a Lower House election was "in a state of unconstitutionality." Districts drawn under the Public Offices Election Law for the 2014 election violated the constitutional principle of equality of votes — or at least, violated it by too wide a margin. A vote in the least densely populated district had the same impact as more than two votes in the most densely populated one.
What does this vague phrase mean? From 1976 to 2011, the court had found several Upper and Lower House elections to be "unconstitutional" (kenpo ihan). The euphemism "in a state of unconstitutionality" (iken jotai) was first used in 2011. It means that the districts were unconstitutional (really), but that a reasonable time for the Diet to fix the election law had not yet passed. Had the districts been unconstitutional and a reasonable time for remediation passed, the court would have called them "unconstitutional." Indeed, the other day three of the 15 justices did that.
As in all previous cases of unconstitutional elections, though, the Supreme Court refused to invalidate the election results. It simply reminded the (illegally elected) Diet members to clean up the election law. To many commentators, this perverse result is the best we can reasonably expect. Respected scholar and blogger Michael Cucek, for example, calls the ruling "all that anyone could have and can reasonably hope for in terms of the Supreme Court's making Japanese elections more fair."