[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled 8-1 [opinion, PDF] Monday in MBZ v. Clinton [JURIST report] that a citizen’s ability to list Israel as a place of birth on a passport is not a political question [LII Cornell backgrounder], but remanded the case for a ruling specifically on the issue. The US State Department argued that this question was political because it informs the government’s foreign policy toward recognition of Israel as sovereign over Jerusalem. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, disagreed, due to the suit being based on a statutory enactment by congress:
The existence of a statutory right, however, is certainly relevant to the Judiciary’s power to decide Zivotofsky’s claim. The federal courts are not being asked to supplant a foreign policy decision of the political branches with the courts’ own unmoored determination of what United States policy toward Jerusalem should be. Instead, Zivotofsky requests that the courts enforce a specific statutory right. To resolve his claim, the Judiciary must decide if Zivotofsky’s interpretation of the statute is correct, and whether the statute is constitutional. This is a familiar judicial exercise.
Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, arguing that the political implications of recognizing Israel has far-reaching impact for the US government, and is a matter of foreign policy over which the judiciary has no oversight.
US citizen Menachem Zivotofsky was born in Jerusalem in 2002. His parents asked the State Department to record his place of birth as Jerusalem, Israel, but were told it could only be listed as Jerusalem because the US does not recognize any country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. His parents filed suit in 2003 based on the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003 [text], which allowed listing of Israel. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the suit as a political question.