WASHINGTON – The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to weigh the constitutionality of a law designed to allow American citizens born in Jerusalem to have “Israel” listed on their passports as their country of birth.
The case will examine a constitutional question of checks and balances – whether the president is the sole authority able to declare US foreign policy or whether Congress can pass laws overriding that policy.
In court papers, the Obama administration said taking sides on the issue could “critically compromise the ability of the United States to work with Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region to further the peace process.”
The government has noted that US citizens born in other places in the region where sovereignty has not been established, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are similarly prevented from stating a country of birth on their passports.
Congress attempted to pass such a law as part of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (2003), which declared that “the Secretary [of State] shall, upon the request of the citizen or the citizens legal guardian, record the place of birth as Israel” in that citizen’s US passport.
The legislation had wide support among major American Jewish organizations, such as the Jewish Federations of North America and the American Jewish Committee.
In 2003, Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky filed a lawsuit seeking to enforce the law. They are parents of US citizen Menachem Zivotosfsky, who was born in Jerusalem in 2002, and would like their son’s passport to say he was born in Israel.
The issue reached the Supreme Court in 2012 on the preliminary question of whether the issue was so political that it did not belong in the courts. The court ruled 8-1 that the case could proceed, setting up a July 2013 ruling by the US Court of Appeals, which struck down key provisions of the law, ruling that the president, above Congress, retained the constitutional ability to determine US policy regarding Jerusalem.
The AJC anticipated an appeal to the Supreme Court when that ruling was announced.
Congress has pushed against the White House on this matter through several administrations.
However, the State Department, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, has refused to directly declare Jerusalem the Israeli capital or indirectly declare the city to be Israeli territory through passport listings.
Asked to comment on Monday’s Supreme Court decision to hear the case, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the government’s position on Jerusalem’s status has not changed.
Oral agreements and a decision are due in the court’s next term, which begins in October and ends in June 2015. The case is Zivotofsky v. Kerry, US Supreme Court, 13-628.Reuters contributed to this report.