The Supreme Court and the US Military: Do Not Overlook Shady Judicial Rulings

57 years ago, during a demonstration against the expansion of the U.S. military’s old Tachikawa base, some students entered the site. Seven people were charged with violation of the Special Criminal Law based on the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. It is known as the Sunagawa incident.

The Tokyo District Court originally acquitted the students on the basis that the U.S. military presence was in violation of Article 9 of the Constitution. Subsequently, the case skipped the High Court to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, which reversed the judgment and sent it back. A sentence of a 2,000 yen fine was settled on.

On that occasion, the Supreme Court issued the following decision: Such highly political issues as the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty would not be settled by the administration of justice. It is referred to as “governing act theory” and still has a powerful influence as an important precedent.

More recently, doubts have arisen over this decision.

Prior to the ruling, Supreme Court Chief Justice Kotaro Tanaka, who was the presiding judge, met with the U.S. ambassador and some diplomats and shared information with them about the trial. These sorts of details were discovered when several of the official telegrams the U.S. ambassador sent to the United States were made public at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administrations.

Would you say this trial was impartial? Was the ruling not politically guided? The four former defendants had every right to demand a retrial this week. The court must open a retrial immediately and verify what happened.

At that time, negotiations for revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty were in the final stages. It is not hard to imagine that officials of both governments wished for the first ruling, which rendered the U.S. military presence unconstitutional, to be struck down.

Meanwhile, the behavior of Mr. Tanaka, who had sent the telegrams, was somewhat erratic. In an interview with the U.S. side, not only did he reveal the date of the trial, he also stated that the lower court’s decision was wrong. He reportedly said that he wished to reach a unanimous decision without opposition.

The telegrams tended to reflect wording and impressions that were in line with the convenience of the diplomats, which calls into question the fundamental righteousness of the court. Primarily, the Supreme Court should personally and willingly clarify the truth.

Something from a half-century ago can in no way be brushed aside. Until now, the decision has been a reason for the court to entirely throw out lawsuits involving U.S. forces in Japan.

The governing act theory has been targeted with criticism lately for rendering toothless the check function for administration and legislation entrusted to the courts. The more highly political the issue, the greater the impact it will have on the public. An important role as guardian of the Constitution is necessary for judicial decisions.

As the legitimacy of the ruling wavers, now is the time to question it once again.

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