(Updated with correction, thanks to Curzon)
Everyone knows that Japan’s lower house of parliament is up for re-election on Sunday, August 30.
But what you may not have heard is that some Supreme Court justices are also up for a “people’s review” (国民審査) at the same time.
Thanks to a banner on the sidebar of Yahoo Japan’s politics site, I now know how this works:
On paper, Supreme Court justices are “appointed by the emperor” based on the cabinet’s nomination and thus the Chief Justice serves as a minister of the emperor on the same level as the prime minister. However, the Japanese emperor has no real power, so in fact this means the justices are appointed by cabinet decision.
As a means of providing a democratic check over the judicial process, each justice is subject under the constitution to a people’s review at the general election immediately following their appointment, and then again every decade thereafter. In the upcoming election nine of the fifteen justices are up for review, including Chief Justice Hironobu Takesaki who was appointed by the Aso cabinet in November 2008.
At the polls, voters will be presented with a ballot listing the name of each justice with a box next to each name. The voter must place an X in the box to affirmatively vote to dismiss each judge. Blank votes are counted as votes in favor.
As far as I can tell, this system is all but window-dressing. So far, no judge has ever been dismissed in this manner, and among current justices who have undergone review, the justice with the highest ratio of votes against him is Yuki Furuta at 8.2%.
This appears to be the only way for the electorate (or their representatives) to dismiss Supreme Court justices, though there is The other ways that justices can be dismissed are the age requirement (they must retire by their 70th birthday) and a law that judges can be tried for dereliction of duties or other misconduct in the Court of Impeachment, consisting of 14 lower and upper house MPs (no Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached).
The Supreme Court‘s English-language page has a very brief mention of this system toward the bottom:
The appointment of Justices of the Supreme Court is reviewed by the people at the first general election of members of the House of Representatives following their appointment. The review continues to be held every ten years at general elections.
A Justice will be dismissed if the majority of the voters favors his/her dismissal. So far, however, no Justice has ever been dismissed by the review.
Justices of the Supreme Court must retire at the age of 70.
The Japan Times had a good Q&A about the Supreme Court back in September 2008.