The top government spokesman on Wednesday criticized a new Supreme Court justice who appeared to express reservations about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive toward revising the government's constitutional interpretation.
"I feel great discomfort (at the remarks)," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference after Justice Tsuneyuki Yamamoto appeared to suggest that Abe should revise the Constitution rather than change the interpretation of it in order to lift the self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense.
It is unusual for a senior government official to respond in such a manner to remarks by a Supreme Court justice, whose job is secured under the Constitution.
Without a relevant ruling by the court, it is the Cabinet which "unambiguously" interprets the Constitution using expertise at the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, the spokesman said.
Yamamoto left his previous post as head of the bureau, which assists the government on various legislative issues including the interpretation of laws, earlier this month.
He was replaced by Ichiro Komatsu, a former ambassador to France believed to be supportive of Abe's stance on the Constitution in a way that would allow the collective self-defense right to be exercised, which could benefit Japan's major allies, most notably the United States.
At his inaugural press conference Tuesday as new Supreme Court justice, Yamamoto said, "When a law remains unchanged, changing the interpretation of it is very difficult," adding, "A constitutional amendment may be appropriate" if the government is to exercise the right to collective self-defense.
While known as an advocate of revising the pacifist Constitution to enhance the nation's defense capabilities, Abe is likely to choose the easier way of changing the government's interpretation to exercise the right to come to the defense of an ally under armed attack.
A government panel of experts is studying the possible shift and may reach a conclusion by the end of the year.