Washington, Nov. 7- The status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was in the spotlight Monday as the U.S. Supreme Court heard a unique case that pitted the authority of the three branches of government against one another in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
At issue in the case Zivotofsky v. Clinton is the birthplace listed on the U.S. passport of nine-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky, who was born in Jerusalem in 2002. His parents sued in 2004 to have his birthplace listed as Israel in line with a 2002 law law that instructs officials to mark Israel as a birth country for Jerusalem-born U.S. citizens upon request.
Current State Department policy only records his place of birth as “Jerusalem” without stating a country. The United States, along with most of the international community, does not recognize any single country as having sovereignty over the city, saying this is one of the issues to be resolved through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The government opposes the parents’ claim, saying it interferes with the executive branch’s conduct of foreign policy.
In oral arguments before the nine justices, Solicitor-General Donald Verilli, representing the Obama administration, asserted the exclusive power of the executive branch in foreign policy, particularly in the sensitive context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Zivotofsky’s lawyer Nathan Lewin countered that the case was merely about giving his client the choice to list Israel as his birthplace.
While the hour-long argument session focused less about the status of Jerusalem and more about the governmental balance of foreign policy decisions, the justices expressed skepticism about both sides.
Justice Stephen Breyer raised concerns that the law passed by Congress in 2002 allowing citizens to list Jerusalem as part of Israel on a child’s birth certificate intruded on presidential power. However, Justice Antonin Scalia said there may be a role for both Congress and the administration in determining the approach to the issue.
Chief Justice John Roberts wondered whether the court should second-guess the president’s conclusion that a particular passport designation would cause a political backlash.
He said the court would in effect tell the President, “We know foreign policy better. We don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”
The Court is not expected to deliver a ruling on the case until the spring of 2012.