Statement on Decision of the Grand Bench of the Supreme Court Concerning Seat Allocation of the House of Representatives Election
On March 23, 2011, the Supreme Court rendered a decision concerning appeals filed by attorneys and others claiming that the 45th General Election of the House of Representatives under the single-seat constituency system held on August 30, 2009, was invalid since the number of seats were not allocated in proportion to the population of each constituency with the largest disparity in the value of a vote being 2.304 times. It ruled that the disparity in the value of a single vote at this election was against the Constitution which required equality in the value of a single vote. The decision continued that: “However, it cannot be deemed that correction measures were not taken within a reasonable period of time as required under the Constitution,” “It cannot be deemed that Article 3 of the Act for Establishment of the Council on the House of Representatives Electoral Districts (Act No. 3 of 1994 ) (hereinafter referred to as the “Seat-Allocation Standard Provision”) and Paragraph 1, Article 13 and Annexed Table No. 1 of the Public Offices Election Act (hereinafter referred to as the “Seat-Allocation Provision”) violate Paragraph 1, Article 14 and other provisions of the Constitution,” “Legislative measures should be taken as soon as possible within a reasonable period of time in order to satisfy the requirement of equality in the value of a single vote, including the abolition of a system to allocate one-seat automatically to each constituency as provided by the Seat-Allocation Standard Provision and the revision of the Seat-Allocation Provision in line with Paragraph 1 of the Seat-Allocation Standard Provision.”
In March 1984, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) recommended in its proposal on a framework for revision of the Public Offices Election Act (adopted by the meeting of the JFBA Board of Governors on February 17, 1984), that disparity in the value of a vote must ultimately be within 1.5 times and in the meantime necessary measures be taken as soon as possible in order to decrease the said disparity to under 2 times. It also recommended that a third-party body draft and report correction measures to the Cabinet and that the Cabinet be obliged to submit a bill before the Diet in order to allocate seats for each constituency ensuring they lie within a disparity of 1.5 times.
Though the Act for Establishment of the Council on the House of Representatives Electoral Districts includes a similar provision to our proposal, its Paragraph 2, Article 3 allows a first allocation of one seat to all prefectures regardless of population and this hampers the realization of equality in the value of a vote.
Today’s ruling pointed out that this one-seat allocation system was introduced to ensure stability and continuity in national politics, and without taking account of this point, it was difficult to reform the election system. However, the ruling also pointed out that more than 10 years had already passed and during this decade the Population Census had been conducted twice, at which time the allocation of seats was supposed to have been reviewed, and thus the one-seat allocation system had already lost any semblance of reasonableness by the time of this election. The majority of judges avoided ruling this situation unconstitutional although Judge Mutsuo Tahara and Judge Koji Miyakawa made a clear judgment of unconstitutionality in their dissenting opinions. However, the majority still mentioned the necessity to take legislative measures and urged the Diet and the Council on the House of Representatives Electoral Districts to accomplish equality in the value of a single vote, as the JFBA has been calling for. The JFBA highly appreciates today’s ruling.
Needless to say, the right to vote is an important right which is integral to constituting the foundation of democracy. If equality in the value of a vote is not guaranteed, even though there is a guarantee of one vote per person, a single vote by one person can have a substantially higher value than that of another person. This essentially means that one person will have been granted a few votes while another will only have received one. This substantial disparity in the value of a vote greatly impairs the functioning of the equality of an election and the “equality of voting rights” would be in name only, not in substance.
The JFBA urges the state to immediately abolish Paragraph 2 of the Seat-Allocation Standard Provision, which sets up the one-seat allocation system, and to have the Council on the House of Representatives Electoral Districts begin to review constituencies on the premise of making their utmost efforts to ensure that seats are allocated in a manner such that the proportion of the population per seat among constituencies is as close to one-to-one as possible.
March 25, 2011
Japan Federation of Bar Associations