The Supreme Court has struck down Congress’ law allowing U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to list Israel as the place of birth on their passports.
The 6 to 3 ruling objected to an attempt by the family of 12-year-old, Jerusalem-born Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky to cite Israel as his place of birth. The Zivotofsky family sued soon after its request was rejected by the U.S. State Department, claiming a 2002 law signed by President George W. Bush should permit it to list the country.
The law in question was the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003, a sweeping piece of legislation signed into law by Bush in 2002.
In his statement regarding the law, Bush objected to the provision relating to Jerusalem:
“Section 214, concerning Jerusalem, impermissibly interferes with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct the Nation’s foreign affairs and to supervise the unitary executive branch. Moreover, the purported direction in section 214 would, if construed as mandatory rather than advisory, impermissibly interfere with the President’s constitutional authority to formulate the position of the United States, speak for the Nation in international affairs, and determine the terms on which recognition is given to foreign states. U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed.”
Although the provision of the law was passed, the Zivotofsky family's case has been challenging its constitutionality for several years. The Supreme Court reached its recent ruling after finding that the president has the sole power to recognize foreign nations, restricting Congress' ability to become involved in the issue.
The official U.S. stance towards Jerusalem has always been that it is a disputed territory that needs to be resolved through talks between both Israel and the Palestinians.
After the Six Day War of 1967, Israel declared Jerusalem as its "eternal capital." According to USA Today, a State Department manual includes the following instructions: "For a person born in Jerusalem, write JERUSALEM as the place of birth in the passport. Do not write Israel, Jordan or West Bank."
The justification for the recent Supreme Court ruling essentially echoed Bush’s sentiments from 2002. “The provision forces the president, through the Secretary of State, to identify, upon request, citizens born in Jerusalem as being born in Israel when, as a matter of United States policy, neither Israel nor any other country is acknowledged as having sovereignty over Jerusalem,” the court said in its ruling, reported the International Middle East Media Center.
The ruling also sends the message to the international community that, in accordance with United Nations policy, the U.S. does not formally recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel.
Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Congress made the legislative body more involved with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than President Barack Obama may have wished, this ruling ensures that relations are not further strained.
The ruling does nothing to change U.S. policy towards Israel — it simply reaffirms that Congress cannot infringe on the president’s executive authority at recognizing the sovereignty of foreign nations.
All three of the Supreme Court's Jewish justices ruled against the Zivotofskys, while Supreme Court’s more conservative justices were the only three to side with the family. In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts warned that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent.
“Today’s decision is a first,” Roberts said, reported USA Today. “Never before has this court accepted a president’s direct defiance of an act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs.”
The case likely won’t have such drastically significant consequences, but it does re-establish the official U.S. stance towards Jerusalem as well as Congress' inability to alter that stance without presidential approval.