Monday, June 08, 2015

Supreme Court Says Congress Overstepped Its Power In Enacting Jerusalem Passport Designation Law

Today the U.S. Supreme Court in Zivtofsky v. Kerry, (Sup. Ct., June 8, 2015), held 6-3 that Congress infringed on the President's power to recognize foreign countries when it enacted a law giving U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem the right to have "Israel" rather than Jerusalem listed in their passports as their place of birth. The majority, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, held that the statute infringes the President's exclusive power to recognize foreign governments, saying in part:
Although the statement required by §214(d) would not itself constitute a formal act of recognition, it is a mandate that the Executive contradict his prior recognition determination in an official document issued by the Secretary of State.... As a result, it is unconstitutional. This is all the more clear in light of the longstanding treatment of a passport’s place-of-birth section as an official executive statement implicating recognition.
Justice Breyer filed a concurring opinion in which he said that he also believed that this posed a political question inappropriate for judicial resolution. Justice Thomas concurred in part and dissented in part, arguing that the statute "can be constitutionally applied to consular reports of birth abroad, but not passports."

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Alito, dissented arguing that the statute does not implicate the President's power to recognize foreign governments.  Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito also joined a dissent filed by Justice Scalia which argues that: "Under the Constitution ... Congress may require Zivotofsky’s passport and birth report to record his birthplace as Israel, even if that requirement clashes with the President’s preference for neutrality about the status of Jerusalem."

JTA points out that the three Jewish justices joined Kennedy's majority opinion. Times of Israel carries the reaction of various Israeli officials to the decision.