A Turning Point in Japan For Equality Rights?

(Initially published in the Japan Times, June 10, 2009)

A year ago this week, the Supreme Court of Japan issued a judgment that struck down a clause in the Nationality Act as being a violation of the Constitution. There are good reasons for everyone in Japan to celebrate that decision. While little noted outside of specialized legal journals at the time, the decision may have been the beginning of a more robust judicial protection of the right to equality in Japan.

The Nationality Act judgment was, of course, hailed as an historic decision — in part because it was only the eighth time the Supreme Court has struck down a law as unconstitutional; and in part because it would extend the benefits of nationality to tens of thousands of children born in Japan to Japanese fathers and foreign mothers who were not married. But much less noticed were the reasons of the court, and what that analysis meant for the right to equality itself.

Prior to this case, the courts of Japan employed a simplistic “reasonableness” test to determine if discrimination constituted a violation of the right to equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution. … Read more…

Piracy and the Constitution

(Initially published in the Japan Times, March 26, 2009)

Once again the issue of Japanese contributions to international security efforts is the subject of tortured debate. And once again the proposed government policy, and aspects of the debate itself, reveals fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between Article 9 of the Constitution and the relevant principles of international law.

This time, the issue relates to maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia, and the proposed deployment of Japanese naval vessels to the area. Predictably, the issue has triggered debate over the effect of the war-renouncing provision of the Constitution. A careful analysis, however, would suggest that the Article 9 prohibition on the use of force would not apply to the deployment of naval forces, or their use of weapons, to protect shipping from pirates in international waters.

Yet, it is clear that the government policy is being formulated under the shadow of Article 9. While the ships are initially being deployed under the authority of Article 82 of the Self-Defense Forces Law, the government has drafted and submitted to the Diet a permanent anti-piracy law, and it is around this bill that debate has focused. … Read more…

The “Yanai Report” on Art. 9, Part 3

Continuing from the last post, this posting examines Part III of the Yanai Report, which is the heart of the argument on the actual interpretation of Art. 9. While the earlier posts were summaries combined with some select segments being translated almost in full, this posting is less a summary and more a full report on the substance of this part of the report. There is much to criticize here, but the analysis is left for the fourth and final posting on the report.

Part III, Section 1 – Opinions and Their Premises Regarding the 4 Scenarios: the panel returns to the question of constitutional interpretation, this time explaining “The Panel’s Fundamental Understanding of Art. 9.” In section one of this part, the panel outlines its opinion and its underlying assumptions with respect to the four problems. After rehashing the changes in threats already discussed above, it articulates the two assumptions that underlie its recommendations for the minimum necessary changes to the interpretation of the Constitution. These are i) that there must be continued maintenance of pacifism and international cooperation as fundamental principles of the Constitution; and ii) even where there is the exercise of collective self-defence or collective security operations under a new national security policy, it cannot be without limits. The panel indicates that the specific limitations will be discussed in Part IV.

Part III, Section 2 – The Interpretation of Art. 9: The panel turns next to its own interpretation of Art. 9. It again summarizes the government interpretation, then begins its discussion with the assertion that in interpreting laws and the Constitution, while it may be natural to interpret the text of each provision, it is also necessary to examine the entire context of the law in its entirety, the history of its formation, the country’s national strategies, the society as a whole, the economy, and other related circumstances. Read more…

Reinterpreting the Constitution of Japan

(Initially published in the Japan Times, October 5, 2008)

The report of the “Panel on the Reconstruction of the National Security Legal Foundation,” commonly known as the Yanai Report, argues that a reinterpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution is necessary to permit Japan to participate in collective self-defense and collective security operations. Both activities are currently understood to be prohibited by Article 9, Section 1. The report reveals, however, a fundamental flaw that entirely undermines the legitimacy of the panel’s analysis.

The panel was created in April 2007 by then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to consider the need for a “reinterpretation” of the Constitution. The panel was composed of 13 prominent academics, former diplomats and government bureaucrats who were predominantly experts in international relations, politics and national security. It included only one constitutional scholar. The panel was criticized for being dominated by policy hawks who were on record as favoring constitutional revision. The chair, Yanai Shunji, a former ambassador to the U.S. and now a professor of Chuo University, submitted the panel’s report to the Cabinet in June. … Read more…