How social media campaigns affected Japan Supreme Court justices’ national review | #socialmedia

Lawyers and others speak to reporters after the Supreme Court ruled constitutional the Civil Code provision banning married couples from having separate surnames, on June 23, 2021, in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

TOKYO — Groups opposing legal revisions to allow married Japanese couples to hold separate surnames and groups pushing for a selective post-marriage name system’s introduction each campaigned on social media for certain Supreme Court justices’ removal ahead of the national review during the Oct. 31 House of Representatives election.

Both parties’ efforts were evident in the results, too. The Mainichi Shimbun looked into what happened in the latest national review, a practice some experts say has attracted little voter attention and been reduced to a husk of its original intentions.

In September 2021, a piece titled “Operation Coconut” was posted to online blog platform Note ahead of the lower house dissolution. Its writer was Yoshihisa Aono, CEO of software development firm Cybozu Inc. The 50-year-old businessman took his wife’s name upon marrying, and has been part of a movement demanding an optional separate surname system’s introduction.

Under the current Civil Code provision, when marrying, a Japanese couple must take a common last name either from the wife or husband. This means one partner must legally change their last name. Aono has even filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government over the issue. The name “Operation Coconut” refers to the campaign’s objective to remove from office politicians and justices opposing the separate surname system and same-sex marriage, like coconuts falling from a shaken tree.

The operation’s targets among the 11 justices in the latest review were Takuya Miyama, Michiharu Hayashi, Kazumi Okamura and Yasumasa Nagamine. All four ruled the Civil Code provision banning married couples from separate last names “constitutional” in a June Grand Bench ruling. In the national review of Supreme Court justices, voters can mark an X above the names of justices they want dismissed. Operation Coconut called for voters to remember the four’s names and mark them with an X.

Meanwhile, those opposing moves to allow a post-marriage selective surname system also campaigned online. The opposition camp made an acronym using the first kanji in the surnames of the three justices — Katsuya Uga, Mamoru Miura and Koichi Kusano — who ruled the Civil Code provision “unconstitutional.” The acronym read “usankusai,” meaning “fishy,” and it spread online. Those against the revision called for voters to mark an X for the three, arguing that allowing separate surnames “will result in children having different last names from their parents” and that “family bond will disappear.”

According to the finalized result announced Nov. 5, Justice Miyama, who ruled the Civil Code provision constitutional, received the highest number of Xs at 4,473,315, or 7.82% among valid votes. Miyama was followed by justices Hayashi, Okamura and Nagamine — the remaining three justices who said it was constitutional. All four received X votes in over 7% of ballots. Justices Uga, Kusano and Miura, who ruled the provision unconstitutional, came in fifth to seventh place respectively. Their percentages of Xs ranged from 6.67% to 6.84%.

The remaining four justices who assumed office in July or later received X votes at a rate of 5.92% to 6.20%, creating a clear three-tiered structure in the national review of the 11 justices: the group that ruled the Civil Code provision “constitutional,” the one that struck it down as “unconstitutional” and the remaining ones appointed after the June ruling.

If a majority of valid votes reject a Supreme Court justice, the individual will be dismissed. However, it’s rare that any justice receives Xs exceeding even 10% of valid votes, and in the past 25 national reviews including the latest one, no justice has been removed in voting.

Under these circumstances, it’s very rare, as in the latest review, to see such noticeable differences in removal vote rates among justices based on a single issue. Aono has said, “I was surprised to see a difference in the hundreds of thousands of votes between the four justices (who got the most X votes) and the others.”

Naho Ida, 46, director-general of the civic organization Sentakuteki Fufu Bessei Zenkoku Chinjo Action (Optional different surname national petition action), told the Mainichi Shimbun: “I think the numbers showed the will of the people who have not expressed their intention before. Society won’t change if people remain bystanders in political and judicial systems.”

At the same time, some have raised questions over the “remove them from office” campaign focusing on a specific issue, because in the past four years since the last national review, the Supreme Court has handed rulings on other important issues, including the disparity in treatment for permanent and non-permanent workers based on their employment status, state redress for asbestos-induced health damage at construction sites and retrial requests in capital punishment cases.

Former Supreme Court Justice Ryuko Sakurai, 74, who was subject to the 2009 national review, told the Mainichi Shimbun, “Justices may care if they get many Xs, but in trials they are supposed to make a decision based on sensible reasoning while facing evidence. A review result will not directly affect a justice’s ruling.”

She added, however, that if the people express their will, it could indirectly affect government affairs. “The more serious people become about the national review, the more revitalized the system becomes,” Sakurai said.

(Japanese original by Jintaro Chikamtasu and Ai Kunimoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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