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Boy, 9, Can Pursue Israel Passport Case, US Supreme Court Rules

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on March 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Nine-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky can pursue his Israel passport case, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. The boy was born in Jerusalem, but as has been the case for decades, the State Department refuses to allow him to list his birthplace as "Israel" on his passport.

Jerusalem is technically a contested territory, with both Israel and Palestine vying for control. The U.S. government has not recognized either nation as the true sovereign, effectively leaving individuals like Zivotofsky without a birth country.

Congress attempted to fix this issue in 2002, according to the New York Times. It passed a law ordering the State Department to allow Americans born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their birthplace. Since its passage, the State Department has refused to enforce the law.

The boy’s parents sued, but the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out the suit. It considered the issue of foreign sovereignty to be political in nature. To preserve the balance of powers, U.S. courts do not opine on purely political questions.

But on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed this ruling. “The courts are fully capable of determining whether this statute may be given effect, or instead must be struck down in light of authority conferred on the executive by the Constitution,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts. The Israel passport case is ultimately about whether Congress had the authority to pass the law — not any underlying issue of foreign policy.

As such, the Israel passport case has been referred for a trial on the merits. It will be through this trial — and any subsequent appeals — that the courts will officially decide whether Congress can force the issue on the State Department.

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