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Supreme Court Strikes Down Law In Jerusalem Passport Dispute

Menachem Zivotofsky stands with his father, Ari Zivotofsky, outside the Supreme Court in Washington in 2014.
Carolyn Kaster
Menachem Zivotofsky stands with his father, Ari Zivotofsky, outside the Supreme Court in Washington in 2014.

Updated at 1:45 p.m. ET

The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a law that allowed Americans who were born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their birthplace on their passports.

In a 6-3 ruling, the court said that the law, passed by Congress in 2002, interferes with the president's constitutional right to recognize foreign nations. The U.S. State Department has a long-standing policy not to recognize any nation's authority over Jerusalem until Israelis and Palestinians resolve its status.

The case is seen as an important separation-of-powers ruling.

"The President," writes Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Majority opinion, "has the exclusive power to grant formal recognition to a foreign sovereign."

What's more, he writes:

"The President, unlike Congress, also has the power to open diplomatic channels simply by engaging in direct diplomacy with foreign heads of state and their ministers. The Constitution thus assigns the President, not Congress, means to effect recognition on his own initiative."

The law in question was a provision of a 2002 appropriations measure. President George W. Bush signed the law, but said at the time he would not follow the Jerusalem language, because it "impermissibly interferes with the president's constitutional authority to conduct the nation's foreign affairs." President Obama has similarly ignored the provision.

Writing in a dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts said with this decision, "the Court takes the perilous step — for the first time in our history — of allowing the President to defy an Act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs."

The case was brought by a Jerusalem-born American boy named Menachem Zivotofsky and his parents.

NPR's Nina Totenberg had this background on the case when it was argued before the high court last November:

"Ever since the founding of Israel, the U.S. has taken the position that no country has sovereignty over Jerusalem until its status is negotiated in a Middle East peace deal. Israel's supporters in Congress, however, have tried to force a different policy, seeking to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and mandating that the U.S. Department of State allow U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their place of birth. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, however, have refused to comply with the passport mandate, contending it infringes on the president's foreign policy powers."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.