“Born in Israel” passport law is ruled unconstitutional


The Supreme Court ruled Monday that American citizens born in Jerusalem cannot list “Israel” as their birthplace on their passport. The court case was necessary because of contradictions in U.S. policy and law.

The United States does not recognize Jerusalem as belonging to Israel. However in 2002, Congress passed a law allowing Americans to list “Israel” as their birthplace even if they were born in Jerusalem.

The Supreme Court found the passport law unconstitutional, and highlighted the fact that Congress overstepped its authority. The 6-3 ruling was based on the Constitutional interpretation of presidential power regarding other nations’ sovereignty.

The majority opinion, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, rests on a fairly straightforward reading of the Constitution. The Reception Clause gives the president the authority to acknowledge a nation’s sovereignty, in effect granting him the power to officially recognize other countries. Moreover, Article II charges the president with negotiating treaties, nominating ambassadors, and dispatching diplomatic agents. Taken together, 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.

To quickly rehash: the Supreme Court verdict said Congress was out of bounds when they passed the 2002 law because only the president can decide whether or not the U.S. will recognize other nations.

Three of the justices disagreed with the ruling: Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Samuel Alito.

“Today’s decision is a first,” Roberts said. “Never before has this court accepted a president’s direct defiance of an act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs.” He said the court was bowing to fears that the congressional law could be misinterpreted as changing U.S. foreign policy, rather than allowing citizens to define their place of birth.

The case was especially interesting given the recent tensions between Congress and President Obama. Congress snubbed Obama back in March when they invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak about the Iranian nuclear deal.


[Washington Post] [Slate] [USA Today] [Photo Credit: AFP]