US Supreme Court bitterly split on Jerusalem passport decision

US Supreme Court bitterly split on Jerusalem passport decision

The US Supreme Court
The US Supreme Court
Meet Menachem Zivotofsky. He hasn't had his Bar Mitzvah yet, but he is already at the centre of an International Diplomatic dispute.
Meet Menachem Zivotofsky. He hasn’t had his Bar Mitzvah yet, but he is already at the centre of an International Diplomatic dispute.

America’s Supreme Court is said to be bitterly split on a controversial decision surrounding the official status of Jerusalem, as recognised by the United States government. 

The dilemma relates to 12 year old American, but Jerusalem born Menachem Zivotofsky, who’s parents want his passport to read ‘Israel’ as opposed to Jerusalem. 

The decision could set a precedent that would effectively recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which is fiercely disputed by Palestinians who claim that the ancient season is also the capital of their potential future state.

According to USA Today, half of the justices defended Congress’ right to declare, as it did in 2002, that Americans born in Jerusalem should be able to have “Israel” listed as the place of birth on their passports.

The other half defended the State Department’s right to set foreign policy, including which countries have sovereignty over territory.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, would be “asking the government to lie” if it said that Jerusalem was part of Israel when the matter is in dispute.

Jewish Justice Elena Kagan called Jerusalem a “tinderbox” in reference to the growing tension in the city and the controversial issue of access to Temple Mount. 

She said the outcome of the case would be watched closely, and that “History suggests that everything is a big deal with respect to the status of Jerusalem”.

On the other side of the argument, Justice Antonin Scalia said “If it is within Congress’s power, what difference does it make whether it antagonises foreign countries?”

The U.S. has never enforced the passport law, on the books since 2002.

Justice Elena Kagan

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., Obama’s top Supreme Court lawyer, wrote in court papers that “The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive flash points in the Arab-Israeli conflict, whilst U.S.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said if the court sides with Congress and the Zivotofskys, it would undermine the president’s authority to set policy for “the most vexing and volatile and difficult diplomatic issue that this country has faced for decades.”

The court’s four liberal members — including its only three Jews — clearly sided with the administration, whereas Justice Antonin Scalia, who along with Chief Justice John Roberts and other conservatives appeared to side with Congress in the dispute, chided the State Department for wanting to “make nice with the Palestinians.”

Ever since Israel was recognized in 1948, the official U.S. policy has been that Jerusalem is a city unto itself. “For a person born in Jerusalem, write JERUSALEM as the place of birth in the passport,” the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual clearly states. “Do not write Israel, Jordan or West Bank for a person born within the current municipal borders of Jerusalem.”

If the Zivotofskys win their case, it could lead to a long line of other Jerusalem natives seeking to change their passports; about 50,000 U.S. citizens were born there.

Alyza Lewin, a lawyer for the American couple who wanted “Israel” listed on their Jerusalem-born son’s passport, argued that Congress was simply allowing Americans a personal choice and not seeking to dictate U.S. policy in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

“What goes on a passport as a place of birth is not tantamount to recognition,” Lewin argued.

But Justice Elena Kagan noted that while the law allows Americans born in Jerusalem to get Israel on their passports, they can’t get Palestine listed even if they believe the city or part of it is rightfully part of a Palestinian state. “This is a very selective vanity plate law, if you want to call it that,” Kagan said. “That suggests that Congress had a view and the view was that Jerusalem was properly part of Israel.

The court said the appeal would be considered again during Friday’s private conference.

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