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Thousands join class action suits challenging constitutionality of security laws

A group of plaintiffs and lawyers enters the Tokyo District Court on April 26, 2016, while holding signs reading, "The security legislation violates the Constitution!" (Mainichi)

A series of class action lawsuits against the central government over controversial security legislation that went into effect this past March has been filed across the country, with plaintiffs arguing that the legislation violates the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's Constitution.

The legal move has attracted attention as Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) troops tasked with "rush and rescue" missions under the new security laws are scheduled to leave for South Sudan on Nov. 20.

Lawsuits demanding the legislation be nullified or repealed filed by individuals since the bills were passed by the Diet in September 2015 have been dismissed on the grounds that the complaints did not come under the purview of the courts. This is based on precedents stating that the constitutionality of a law can only be judged in cases where concrete legal conflicts exist between parties.

A group of attorneys supporting plaintiffs suing the state across the country worked out tactics to avoid courts shutting down lawsuits based on this reason, and has called for class action suits in two patterns: filing for state compensation over "emotional distress caused by the unconstitutional security legislation that violates the right to a peaceful life," and filing for administrative litigation demanding suspension of mobilization of SDF troops before they are deployed. The group says some 3,500 people have joined the movement as plaintiffs so far, and class action lawsuits have been filed with 11 district courts.

The government argues that, in the former cases, the plaintiffs' complaints are based only on vague feelings of concern, while in the latter cases the complainants are not involved parties, and therefore cannot demand suspension of an SDF mobilization.

The government has claimed that Japan's exercise of the right to collective self-defense permitted under the new security laws is constitutional, and quoted this argument in the lawsuits. At the same time, the state maintains that there is no need for it to clarify its position toward the plaintiffs' claim of the legislation's unconstitutionality, on the grounds that the matter is not relevant to the conflict that the plaintiffs are presenting.

Kazuhiro Terai, co-representative of the lawyers' group, says, "The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed for a vote (on the security legislation) while claiming that it wasn't unconstitutional. I want the government to openly debate the legislation's constitutionality."

In a separate case filed with the Tokyo District Court by a GSDF member in the Kanto region, the plaintiff claims that they are not under obligation to be dispatched under the new security legislation because they did not agree to comply with orders that would entail the exercise of the right to collective defense when they joined the force in 1993. While the government argues that the plaintiff would not necessarily be dispatched under the new security laws since they belong to a logistics unit, the presiding judge has demanded the state make clearer counterarguments against the plaintiff's claim.

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