WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is taking its second look at a dispute over the wording of U.S. passports for Americans born in Jerusalem, a case with potential foreign policy implications in the volatile Middle East.
The justices are hearing arguments Monday in a lawsuit filed by the parents of Menachem Zivotofsky, an American who was born in Jerusalem in 2002.
The family is invoking a law passed just before the boy was born to try to force the State Department to list Menachem’s place of birth as Israel on his U.S. passport.
Administrations of both political parties have said the law is contrary to long-held U.S. policy that refuses to recognize any nation’s sovereignty over Jerusalem until the Israelis and Palestinians resolve the city’s status through negotiations. The country of birth is almost always listed on the passports of foreign-born citizens. But for those born in Jerusalem, just the city name is used.
The status of Jerusalem is among the thorniest issues in the region. Israel proclaims a united Jerusalem as its eternal capital. The Palestinians say their independent state will have east Jerusalem as its capital.
Tensions are high between Israelis and Palestinians over Jerusalem and relations are strained between the Obama administration and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Two years ago, the justices rejected lower court decisions that called the matter a political issue that should be resolved by Congress and the president without the help of the courts.
The federal appeals court in Washington then struck down the law as an unconstitutional intrusion by Congress on the president’s authority over foreign affairs.
Congress and the White House have argued for decades over support for Israel’s position on Jerusalem.
In 1995, Congress essentially adopted the Israeli position, saying the U.S. should recognize a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In 2002, lawmakers passed new provisions urging the president to take steps to move the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and allowing Americans born in Jerusalem to have their place of birth listed as Israel.
President George W. Bush signed the 2002 provisions into law but noted that “U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed.”
President Barack Obama has taken the same stance. “The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive flashpoints in the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. wrote in court papers.
Allowing the affected passports to list Israel as the place of birth would be regarded internationally as a reversal of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, Verrilli said.
Backed by the Senate and by House members, the Zivotofskys called the passport policy “unjust and discriminatory” and said changing it would not impair America’s foreign policy.