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US Presidents Gain More Authority in Jerusalem Passport Dispute

  • VOA News

File - A U.S. passport.

File - A U.S. passport.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that U.S. presidents, not Congress, have the "exclusive power" to recognize foreign nations, overturning a law that would have permitted Americans born in the disputed city of Jerusalem to list Israel as their birthplace on their passports.

Justices ruled 6-3 that Congress overstepped its authority when it approved the law in 2002 over the objections of then-President George W. Bush. The law would have forced the State Department to end its longstanding policy of not listing Israel as the birthplace for Americans born in Jerusalem.

That policy is in line with the U.S. government's refusal to recognize any nation's sovereignty over Jerusalem until the Israelis and Palestinians resolve the issue through negotiations, which have periodically started and then fallen apart in rancor.

Israel, which took control of the city in the 1967 Six-Day War, considers Jerusalem its historic and undivided capital, while Palestinians view it as occupied territory.

Most foreign nations, including the United States, consider Tel Aviv to be the Israeli capital.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said because U.S. presidents have the singular power to recognize nations, what a passport says is part of that authority.

"Recognition is a topic on which the nation must speak with one voice," Kennedy said. "That voice must be the president's."

The dispute centered on a request by a Jerusalem-born American, Menachem Zivotofsky, and his parents to have his birthplace listed as Jerusalem.

All three Jewish members of the court sided with the administration of President Barack Obama in opposing the Zivotofskys.

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented from the majority ruling, saying, "Today's decision is a first: never before has this court accepted a president's direct defiance of an act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs."

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