SCOTUS rules in Jerusalem passport case

The US Supreme Court ruled (PDF) June 8 in Zivotofsky v. Kerry that the Constitution gives the president the exclusive power to recognize foreign sovereigns. Seeking to have his place of birth listed as "Israel" on his passport, Jerusalem-born Menachem Zivotofsky and his family appealed lower court decisions that refused to grant his request on the grounds that, since 1948, the US has not recognized any country as having sovereignty over the holy city. In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court upheld the lower court's finding that § 214(d) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act (PDF) was unconstitutional for violating the president's sovereignty in foreign relations. The law, through which Congress ordered the State Department to list Israel as the place of birth for US citizens born in Jerusalem if requested, was previously invalidated (PDF) by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2013. In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito as well, urged that the law was not repugnant to the Constitution, as the document divides foreign relations power between the president and Congress.

The case was first tried in the US District Court for the District of Columbia in 2003. After a ruling in favor of the government, the Zivotofsky family appealed to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which initially dismissed the case as a "political" question. The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that a citizen's ability to list Israel as a place of birth on a passport is not a political question and remanded the case for a ruling specifically on the issue. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia this time found for the government, and the family appealed again. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case in April 2014, and heard arguments in November. Although neutral on its face, the decision may have an impact on US-Israel relations.

From Jurist, June 9. Used with permission.