On Monday, delivering a setback for the Federal Government, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the American parents of a boy born in Jerusalem could approach the court to have Israel, instead of Jerusalem listed as the birthplace on the boy’s U.S. Passport.
So, what’s the issue?
Since the founding of Israel, the U.S. government has declined to recognize that the country holds sovereignty over Jerusalem. However, the issue was dragged to court by state lawyers over a seemingly innocuous matter, the question of registering the birthplace of a boy born in Jerusalem on the U.S. passport as Israel.
The stand of the State Department is that Jerusalem does not belong to any country – so marking Jerusalem as the place of birth on the birth certificate and Passport of nine-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky was not a problem. The problem was that the mother’s request for additionally listing Israel as the birthplace was rejected.
The parents of the boy filed a lawsuit in 2003 claiming that a 2002 American law, passed before the birth of their child allowed Israel to be listed as the place of birth on the passport of any American born in Jerusalem.
However, a federal judge and subsequently an appeals court dismissed the lawsuit upon the grounds that the court cannot interfere to make the U.S. government change its foreign policy.
On Monday, the Supreme Court held that the lower courts had interpreted the issue too narrowly and had missed its crux. The issue was merely whether Zivotofsky had the right “to have Israel recorded on his passport as his place of birth,” and did not extend to a change in foreign policy of the nation.
The Supreme Court observed, “Zivotofsky does not ask the courts to determine whether Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”
It is pertinent to note that previous and present Presidents of the nation including George W. Bush and Barrack Obama all agreed on this issue that the 2002 law would not be followed on the grounds that the U.S. Congress had unconstitutionally infringed on presidential powers to lay down foreign policy.
However, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs said that while the question of authority over foreign policy is a separate issue, there is no doubt that the U.S. Congress held the power to control the contents of the passport of a U.S. citizen.
The ruling is expected to affect more than 50,000 citizens who have been born in Jerusalem, and could allow them to include Israel as their birthplace on their passports.
Most countries continue to accept Israel’s claims on Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital, and continue to maintain their embassies to Israel at Tel Aviv.
The Supreme Court case is Zivotofsky v. Clinton, No. 10-699.