The United States Supreme Court on Monday ruled that American passports must say Jerusalem and not Israel. The ruling comes just a few months after a bitter feud between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Justices denied Americans born in Jerusalem to have their passports changed to reflect Israel as their birthplace, which Congress demanded.
The court ruled 6-3 that Congress overstepped their bounds when they approved the law thirteen years ago. The policy is part of the government’s refusal to recognize any nation’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, until Israelis and Palestinians resolve its status through negotiations. The challenge was brought by the Jewish parents of a 12-year-old, which was denied by a majority of justices supporting the State Department’s warning that a passport alteration could provoke an uproar throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito sided with Congress.
President George W. Bush in 2002 signed a foreign relations law, which included a section that for Americans born in Jerusalem, “the Secretary shall, upon the request of the citizen or the citizen’s legal guardian, record the place of birth as Israel.” President Bush ignored the provision as unconstitutional and President Obama’s administration agreed with the former president’s decision.
The parents of Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky began their battle in 2002. If they had won, it could have led to nearly 50,000 Americans seeking to change their passports. During oral arguments, Justice Elena Kagan called the congressional act “a very selective vanity-plate law,” intimating it would not do the same if Palestinians born in Jerusalem wanted their passports to say “Palestine.” Scalia chided the State Department for wanting to “make nice with the Palestinians.”
Justice Scalia delivered his dissent saying, “The text and structure of the Constitution divide responsibility for foreign policy, like responsibility for just about everything else, between the two coordinate, equal political branches,” he said from the bench. “A principle that the nation must have a single foreign policy, which elevates efficiency above the test and structure of the Constitution, will systematically favor the president at the expense of Congress.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion which rested on the reception clause which gives the President the authority to acknowledge a nation’s sovereignty, in effect granting him the power to officially recognize other countries. Article II charges the president with negotiating treaties, nominating ambassadors, and dispatching diplomatic agents. Kennedy said these powers suggest that the president has the ultimate authority to decide whether or not the United States will recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel. While Israel calls Jerusalem its capital, few other countries accept that. Most, including the United States, maintain embassies in Tel Aviv. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, as capital of the state they aim to establish alongside Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.