Another Iraq War lawsuit bites the dust

Some people think that the U.S. has a monopoly on stupid lawsuits. Japan has its share, too. The main difference is that the Japanese courts usually tell the plaintiffs to get lost. Yomiuri reports on the dismissal of one such case in Nagoya:

The plaintiffs sought the termination of the deployment, claiming that “the SDF deployment to Iraq, in addition to being an act of war in violation of Article 9 of the Constitution, violates the right to peaceful existence provided in the Preamble to the Constitution, and has caused psychological damage.”

Similar lawsuits are pending in eleven other district courts, including Sapporo and Tokyo; the plaintiffs’ suits in Kofu and Osaka have also been dismissed.

“Dismiss” (却下 kyakka) means that the court found no legal standing for the suit. Article 9 has been the subject of many lawsuits ending in a dismissal, going back to the predecessors of the SDF in the early 1950s. While many citizens might object, few people can prove any injury resulting from the government’s alleged constitutional violations.

One notable exception to this was the Sunakawa Case of 1959, which challenged an arrest made under a law based on Article 9. The plaintiffs, who had been arrested for trespassing on Tachikawa Air Base in Tokyo, made it all the way to the Supreme Court before their case against Article 9 was conclusively thrown out.

2 thoughts on “Another Iraq War lawsuit bites the dust”

  1. You should talk a little more about that Sunakawa case, it sounds pretty interesting. On what grounds was a protest against article 9 related to their trespassing claim?

    I can certainly see the validity of a claim that the existence of the SDF violates Article 9, but unless Japan has a draft or something, I really can’t see how anyone can actually claim the personal damages you would need to bring lawsuit.

  2. The gist of Sunakawa was that the law against trespassing on U.S. military bases was an illegal enforcement of Article 9 because it permitted the maintenance of military forces on Japanese soil. A slightly different case than the SDF.

    An even better example was the Naganuma Case of 1969, which actually resulted in a district court ruling that the SDF was unconstitutional. (Quickly overturned on appeal, of course.) Some historical analysis:

    When judge Fukushima ruled in 1969 for the plaintiffs on the unconstitutionality of the Self Defense Forces (SDF) in the Naganuma Case a wave of shock rippled through the Diet and through the ranks of the military. Adding insult to injury, Fukushima revealed that he had received a letter from Judge Hiraga Kenta, urging him to side with the government on the grounds that the SDF were the right and responsibility of the Diet. This blatant intrusion into the impartiality of Fukushima’s decision caused a scandal resulting in Kenta’s reprimand and removal to a supervised position in Tokyo. Fukushima’s decision was eventually overturned by superior courts and by the Supreme Court but the surrounding events stayed fresh in the minds of Japanese politicians.

    The Naganuma case was representative of the way the court system really was starting to lean, and Diet politicians began to worry about the preservation of their power in Japanese government. Many of these new judges belonged to the Young Lawyers Association (YLA) which promoted a literal, liberal reading of the constitution (especially Article 9, the Peace Clause): when these judges started issuing decisions in opposition to the government, the controlling political party, the LDP, started getting uppity. In 1968 an article was published claiming that many YLA judges were communists and there was a subsequent purge of judges throughout the courts. Furthermore there was a rescript from the secretary general of the General Secretariat ordering judges to resign from any political associations on the basis that those associations would have an improper effect on decisions. Many lawyers and judges were forced to renounce their membership in the YLA, many judges resigned in disgust, and many more were forced into early retirement (compulsory retirement is at age 65 or 70, and the majority of judges wait until this time to retire). The entire event called into question the amount of control the LDP exercised over the courts and how distinct the judicial branch was from the legislative branch.

    That case was based on expropriation of land to build an SDF base, if I recall correctly.

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