US court to review Jerusalem birthplace law

Monday 21 April 2014 15.04
An Israeli flag flutters in Jerusalem's Old City
An Israeli flag flutters in Jerusalem's Old City

The US Supreme Court has agreed to weigh the constitutionality of a US law that was designed to allow American citizens born in Jerusalem to have Israel listed as their birthplace on passports.

The case concerns a long-standing US foreign policy that the president - and not politicians - has sole authority to state who controls Jerusalem.

The historic holy city is claimed by Israelis and Palestinians.

Seeking to remain neutral on the hotly contested issue, the US State Department allows passports to name Jerusalem as a place of birth, but no country name is included.

The State Department, which issues passports and reports to the president, has declined to enforce the law passed by Congress in 2002, saying it violated the separation of executive and legislative powers laid out in the US Constitution.

In 2003, Ari and Naomi Zivotofsky, the parents of US citizen Menachem Zivotofsky, who was born in Jerusalem in 2002, filed a lawsuit seeking to enforce the law.

They would like their son's passport to say he was born in Israel.

Since the founding of Israel in 1948, US presidents have declined to state a position on the status of Jerusalem, leaving it as one of the thorniest issues to be resolved in possible future Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

When President George W. Bush signed the 2002 law, he said that if construed as mandatory rather than advisory, it would "impermissibly interfere" with the president's authority to speak for the country on international affairs.

The issue reached the US Supreme Court in 2012 on the preliminary question of whether it was so political that it did not belong in the courts.

The high court ruled 8-1 that the case could proceed.

An estimated 50,000 American citizens were born in Jerusalem and could have used the law, if it were enforced, to list Israel as their birthplace.

While Israel calls Jerusalem its capital, few other countries accept that status.

Most, including the United States, maintain their embassies to Israel in Tel Aviv.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, as capital of the state they aim to establish alongside Israel in the West Bank and Gaza.

Oral arguments and a decision are due in the court's next term, which begins in October and ends in June 2015.

The case is Zivotofsky v Kerry, US Supreme Court, 13-628.