Shisaku is on hiatus while the author is conducting a fish survey. However the Supreme Court decision on the December 2012 House of Representatives election (Link) deserves some kind of comment.
One should probably be checking in with Andrea Ortolani for fine- grained analysis. However, it seems that in the aggregate the Supremes, in declaring the district elections "in a state of unconstitutionality" (iken jotai) with three justices ruling the elections "unconstitutional but not invalid", have worked out a least worst outcome. While a preservation of the dignity of the Court would seemingly have demanded a ruling that the December 2012 elections, carried out as they were in defiance of a Supreme Court order to change the electoral map, be slapped down at least as unconstitutional, if not unconstitutional and invalid (what the logical difference would be between those two possible rulings, I would not wish to ponder).
Ruling the 2012 elections unconstitutional would have created a juridical/legislative black hole, though. If the elections that elected the current crop of Diet members were unconstitutional, then the only legitimate Diet capable of reforming the districts would be the one that was turned out of office a year ago. Reassembling those members now, to vote on reform legislation, would itself be unconstitutional as the terms in office of those members, had they been served out in full, ended in August.
So the Supremes simply repeated themselves -- "this is wrong and you should fix it before you hold another election" -- a flash of a sword but not a real stab the contradictions inherent in the description of the relative powers of the judiciary and the legislature found in Articles 41 and 81 of the Constitution). The contradiction -- the Diet is the supreme organ but the Court is the ultimate decider of constitutionality versus unconstitutionality -- is not something the Supremes would necessarily want to resolve given that the 2012 elections did result in a transfer of power in between parties.
In a seemingly pointless but still significant snit of protest, the Court did pre-emptively strike down the current reformation of the electoral map, the so-called +0/-5 solution passed in the final days of the last Diet, as insufficient to fix the state of unconstitutionality. Fiddling at the margins -- dropping the five smallest districts and moving a few communities in and out of a few districts so that the maximum measured level of disparity is 1.99 -- is NOT what the Supremes want in terms of rectifying the disparities in between the districts. Since the population shifts since 2010, the time of the last census, have resulted the new, "reformed" districts again creeping past the 2.0 disparity standard, the Court had the opportunity to blast the +0/-5 fiddle -- and to the Court's credit, it did.
This aside leaves the door open for the Court to take action at a later date, if the Diet continues to shirk its obligation to renew the nation through more equal electoral district maps. By declaring the +0/-5 solution insufficient, the Supremes have put the Diet on the hook to fix the districts before the next election -- or else the Supremes could chose to really put their feet down.
The Supremes' ruling against the plaintiffs in this round of cases is a blow against those fighting for a rectification of the value of the votes of urban dwellers and the residents of rural constituencies. The Abe government and the current Liberal Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives can also breathe easier -- their elections to power being, if not exactly validated, at least insulated against major challenge.
The Asahi Shimbun is bummed at the setback (Link - J) but it should not be -- the legislative fight against electoral district disparity must continue.
Later - The Yomiuri Shimbun offers a government-supportive English-language edit (Link) and the Mainichi Shimbun a more neutral English-language edit (Link) of the story.