Supreme Court: Jerusalem-Born U.S. Citizen Can't Put Israel as Country of Birth

The Supreme Court has ruled against a boy born in Jerusalem to U.S. citizen parents who wanted to have Israel listed on his passport as country of birth.

The Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 required that Israel be listed as the place of birth on passports for U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem upon request. The Obama administration has never followed that law, and President George W. Bush attached a signing statement to the bill at the time expressing concern that Congress interfered with the executive branch authority to levy recognition on foreign states.


The ruling was 6-3 in favor of the Obama administration, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito dissenting.

“The court takes the perilous step — for the first time in our history — of allowing the president to defy an act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs,” Roberts wrote, while Scalia argued, “The text and structure of the Constitution divide responsibility for foreign policy.”

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the nation “must have a single policy regarding which governments are legitimate in the eyes of the United States and which are not.”

“Recognition is a topic on which the nation must speak with one voice,” Kennedy added. “That voice must be the president’s.”

Israel did not comment on the case, while chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, “It is a clear message to the Israeli government that its decisions and measures in occupying and annexing Jerusalem are illegal and void and that it should immediately stop these measures because it’s a clear violation of the international law.”

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters the ruling “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 in passports,” he said.


“It’s an important decision. Of course, the – when the administration’s arguments are basically upheld by the decision – pleased by that, but not doing a victory dance.”

Asked what the U.S. government considers to be the capital of Israel, Rathke replied that “since Israel’s founding, administrations of both parties have maintained a consistent policy of recognizing no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. So we remain committed to this longstanding policy, and this decision today helps ensure that our position on the neutrality of Jerusalem remains – it remains clear.”

“Our consistent policy is we recognize no state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem,” he added.

Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) said the ruling “preserves the president’s power of recognition.”

“However it also highlights yet another failure on the part of this administration’s foreign policy,” Salmon said. “The president’s abject refusal to recognize Jerusalem as being under Israel’s jurisdiction denies Israel its capital and Americans the right to have their birthplaces accurately described.”

Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein said it’s not about the government recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, but “it simply gives Americans born in Jerusalem the right to identify themselves with Israel, if that is their choice.”

“Any concerns that the law might be construed as recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem could easily have been remedied by the Executive issuing a disclaimer, making it clear that the State Department’s compliance with the law did not mean that the U.S. had officially recognized Jerusalem as part of Israel,” Klein said. “That is exactly what the State Department did when Americans born in Taiwan were afforded the right to have their birthplace listed as ‘Taiwan,’ even though the U.S. did not recognize Taiwan as a separate sovereign from China.”


“We are concerned that the Court’s decision will be twisted by Israel-bashers to deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and Israel’s right to any part of the city.”


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