Photo/IllutrationLawyers for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit over vote-weight disparities protest the ruling in front of the Tokyo High Court on Oct. 30. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Most of the High Court rulings on the vote-value disparity cases concerning the July Upper House election have declared the election to be constitutional despite the disparity being as high as 3.00.

There were 16 constitutionality lawsuits filed by two groups of lawyers in 14 high courts or their branches around Japan over the disparity in the value of a vote cast in the least and most populous constituency. Of these, two decisions have said the election was held in “a state of unconstitutionality” as it violated the principle of equality.

But the remaining 14 adjudged the vote to be constitutional.

Many of these 14 rulings praised the narrowing of the vote value gap from 3.08 for the Upper House election three years ago. They also took a positive view of the fact that the remedial measure of combining two prefectural constituencies with a relatively small population into one has been maintained despite criticism from the affected local governments.

These rulings are outrageously lenient toward the Diet, which has done little to tackle this important problem.

The maximum disparity of 3.00 in the number of voters per representation means some Japanese people’s votes have only one-third the weight of those cast by some others.

Most of the high courts that heard the cases cited the Diet efforts to address the issue as one of the reasons for calling the July election constitutional. Their reasoning is far from convincing.

The process leading to the July election underscores lawmakers’ dismal records concerning this issue.

Prior to the 2016 Upper House election, the Diet passed a revision to the Public Offices Election Law featuring the introduction of the measure to merge four demographically small electoral districts into two.

But the Diet admitted that the revision was still an insufficient response to the serious problem and pledged to consider a fundamental review of the electoral system before this year’s election. The Diet added a supplementary provision to the revised law saying, “the conclusion of the planned review should be reached without fail.”

What was the “conclusion?”

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party suddenly and unilaterally proposed to revise the Constitution to end the mergers. Opposition parties denounced the proposal. A lot of time was wasted, and neither house of the Diet engaged in in-depth debate for reform on such core issues as what kind of roles each chamber should perform.

As the Upper House election drew near, the LDP dropped the proposal to revise the Constitution and instead pushed for the establishment of a “special quota” to add four to the number of seats elected through the proportional representation formula. The quota was designed to allow parties to designate preferred candidates who could be elected irrespective of the number of votes they tallied.

It was clearly a partisan political scheme to rescue the incumbents who would otherwise be dropped from the LDP’s list of candidates due to the mergers.

At the end of the day, the only effective remedial step taken to address the problem of vote-value disparity was an easy measure of increasing the number of seats elected from Saitama Prefecture by two.

The Diet’s pledge to promote further reform of the system was downgraded from a formal provision to an additional resolution that made a vague promise of “continued consideration.”

Which of these dubious steps or half measures deserves to be praised? The High Court rulings that lauded the Diet efforts to deal with the problem simply defy common sense.

The 14 High Court rulings have only widened the gap in perceptions concerning the issue between the public and the judiciary.

These decisions apparently reflect the influence of a Supreme Court ruling handed down two years ago. The top court declared the 2016 Upper House election was constitutional despite the vote weight disparity of 3.08, citing, among others, the mergers of districts.

An Asahi Shimbun editorial at that time warned that the top court decision would serve as a disincentive for electoral reform. The questionable High Court rulings seem to have vindicated the warning.

Elections constitute the very core of parliamentary democracy. Unless they are designed to reflect the will of the people accurately, the legitimacy of the ruling power is undermined.

The Supreme Court was clearly aware of this concern when it handed down some rulings that exhorted the legislature to make serious efforts to fix the problem.

But lawmakers have failed to make any sincere response to the call. The top court apparently compromised its position in the face of political inaction when it handed down the lenient ruling two years ago.

It has negatively affected the High Court views on the issue.

The Supreme Court, as it hears and determines the final appeal over the case, needs to fulfill its responsibility as the guardian of the Constitution by handing down a well-reasoned ruling.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 7