Article Examining Japan’s “Reinterpretation” of Article 9 Through the Lens of Informal Amendment Theory

My latest big law review article has just been published: “The Legitimacy of Informal Constitutional Amendment and the ‘Reinterpretation’ of Japan’s War Powers,” 40 Fordham International Law Journal 427 (2017). It  analyzes the “reinterpretation” of Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan for what insights it can offer our understanding of theories of informal constitutional amendment. At the same time it examines what those theories can tell us about the legitimacy of the Japanese “reinterpretation.” The abstract is as follows:

The government of Japan has purported to reinterpret the famous war-renouncing provision of the Constitution in a controversial process that deliberately circumvented the formal amendment procedure. This article argues that these developments should be of great interest to constitutional law scholars in America because they bring into sharp focus issues that remain underdeveloped and unresolved in the debate over informal amendment. Theories on informal amendment suggest that there are some constitutional changes that exceed the reasonable range of normal interpretive development, but which are not implemented through formal amendment procedures. The existence, scope, and legitimacy of such informal amendments remains hotly contested.

This article focuses on the key issue of legitimacy. It uses the Japanese reinterpretation as the context in which to explore the relationship among three suggested factors affecting the legitimacy of informal amendment, namely: the public ratification of the change; the intent of the agents of the change; and the passage of time. It also suggests a new way of conceptualizing the relationship among authority, legitimacy, and time in thinking about informal amendments, in that the level of constitutional authority and degree of legitimacy that may be enjoyed by contested changes will begin to diverge with the passage of time.

The article argues that deliberate attempts to effect significant constitutional change in a manner calculated to circumvent the formal amendment process—such as the Abe government’s reinterpretation effort in Japan—are prima facie unauthorized and illegitimate at the time they occur. Moreover, only the most explicit and deliberate expressions of popular sovereignty can serve to legitimate such changes. But while such deliberate informal change will always remain unauthorized, it may be legitimated with the passage of time. I argue that this legitimation may, and should, take longer than for less contested forms of change.

Media Should Stop Legitimizing Abe’s Article 9 ‘Reinterpretation’

(Published in The Japan Times, Jun. 13, 2015).

3 Con Law Scholars

Three of Japan’s preeminent constitutional law scholars testified on June 4 that the government’s recently tabled national security bills were unconstitutional. The proposed legislation is intended to implement the Cabinet resolution that purports to “reinterpret” the war-renouncing provision of the Constitution. The legal scholars’ testimony was greeted with apparent surprise in the media, as though it had not occurred to anyone until that moment that the draft bills might be unconstitutional.

The media reporting on the so-called reinterpretation has reflected a profound misunderstanding of the constitutional effect of the Cabinet resolution ever since it was issued last summer. The press has typically stated that the meaning of Article 9 had been “changed” or “revised” by the Cabinet resolution. That is simply wrong as a matter of law. It is important that the media understand that the Constitution was not amended or changed in any way by the Cabinet resolution, and that laws must continue to be judged against long established interpretations of Article 9. Otherwise, misleading and mistaken reporting on the issue could contribute to making an illegitimate attempt at reinterpretation a de facto amendment. … Read more…

Re-Examining the ‘Myths’ About Japan’s Collective Self-Defense Change

(Co-authored with Bryce Wakefield – published in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Sept. 8, 2014)

In a recent article in the Diplomat, Michael Green and Jeffrey Hornung claimed that critics of the Abe government’s “reinterpretation” of Japan’s constitution, to end the ban on the use of force for the purposes of collective self-defense, were “basing their opposition on myths about the change.” This allegation that resistance to the “reinterpretation” of Article 9 is based on nothing but “myths” is increasingly heard, and so it is worth examining their arguments, and the so-called myths that they purport to dismiss.

Green and Hornung argued that the changes to be made through the “reinterpretation” were actually slight and that the immediate implications were far less problematic than alleged. There is a grain of truth to this as it relates to imminent strategic consequences, but it also misses the essential point. Yes, at least in the short term, changes to the roles and the missions of the nation’s Self Defense Forces resulting from “reinterpretation” will probably be modest; and yes, the changes will not likely lead to militarism, regional adventurism, or various other scenarios that the article examines and dismisses. But this focus on the intended policy shifts misses the far more significant issues raised both by the unconstitutional nature of the move and the possible longer-term and profound systemic ramifications of the “reinterpretation.”

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 The Hyuga – DDH 16 – Hyuga class helicopter destroyer (credit-World Politics News Review)

It is precisely because the immediate strategic implications of the Abe Cabinet’s announcement will probably be relatively modest that the implications for constitutional practice in Japan should be the focus of the debate. Perhaps the changing strategic environment in Asia will require Japan to consider relaxing some of the constraints imposed by Article 9. However, so fundamental a change to the nation’s constitution should only come after broad debate and pursuant to formal amendment procedures as provided for in the constitution. As explained below, the so-called “reinterpretation” process has in fact weakened constitutionalism, the rule of law, and fundamental principles of democracy in Japan, an argument that Green and Hornung, and many other defenders of the “reinterpretation”, never seriously address. In short, the harm is to the Constitution, and so focus on strategy is no answer.

Let us re-examine some of the “myths” that Green and Hornung so quickly dismiss. … Read more…