Supreme Court strikes down Jerusalem passport law

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Ruling is a decisive victory for the Obama administration that argued the law jeopardizes its neutrality

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday ruled against a law that would have allowed Americans born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their country of birth on their U.S. passport.

The 6-3 ruling is a decisive victory for the Obama administration that has said the law would jeopardize its neutrality as a peace broker between Israel and Palestine.

The court’s liberal wing, including justices Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer joined with swing vote Anthony Kennedy and established conservative Clarence Thomas in the majority.

Dissenting were justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.

“Recognition is a topic on which the nation must ‘speak with one voice,’” Kennedy wrote in the opinion for the majority. “That voice must be the president’s.”

At issue is the recognition of Jerusalem as sovereign Israeli territory — a move that Washington has refrained from taking amid ongoing peace efforts between Israel and Palestine, which both claim the contested city as their capital.

In the minority opinion, Scalia wrote that equating the authority to make legal commitments over sovereignty abroad with writing “Israel” on a U.S. citizen’s passport “is a leap worthy of the Mad Hatter”, in apparent reference to the character from the famous novel Alice in Wonderland.

“No consistent or coherent theory supports the court’s decision,” he wrote.

The case, Zivotofsky v. Kerry, has been making its way through American courts for 12 years, with rulings for and against Menachem Zivotofsky and his parents.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Monday’s decision “confirms the long-established authority of the president over the conduct of diplomacy and foreign policy.

“The decision also respects his ability to ensure that his determinations regarding recognition are accurately reflected in official documents and diplomatic communications, including passports,” he added. 

Congress passed the law in 2002 when it also urged the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem under then-President George W. Bush, but neither Bush nor Obama implemented it.

Israel has had sole control of Jerusalem since 1967, and has declared the city its capital. Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as their capital. 

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