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Supreme Court: President Can Overrule Congress in Jerusalem Passport Case

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

In a clash between the Executive and Legislative Branches, the judicial branch sided with the President. In a 6-3 decision announced on Monday, the Supreme Court struck down a federal statute that allowed Americans born in Jerusalem to have Israel listed as their country of birth on passports.

Instead, the Court said that the President has exclusive authority to recognize foreign sovereigns. The ruling appears to solidify the Executive Branch's power over diplomacy and foreign policy, but where did it come from, and what will it mean?

From Where?

For the past 60 years, American foreign policy has refused to recognize any state as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. In 2002, however, Congress passed the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which required the State Department to record the place of birth as Israel on the passports of Americans born in Jerusalem.

Fearing that such a notation would constitute recognition of Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem, the Obama administration argued the law impermissibly commanded "the Executive branch to issue diplomatic communication that contradicts the government's official position on recognition," and would cause "irreversible damage" to the nation's influence in an already volatile region.

To Where?

As we all remember from high school civics classes, the federal government is divided into three main branches. And in a classic separation of powers case, the Supreme Court had to choose between the President's power over foreign affairs and Congress' law-making power.

Justice Anthony Kennedy was clear in his majority opinion: "Congress cannot command the president to contradict an earlier recognition determination in the issuance of passports." Kennedy added, "Congress wanted to express its displeasure with the President's policy, by among other things, commanding the Executive to contradict his own, early stated position on Jerusalem. This Congress cannot do."

In that sense, the case can be seen as a win for the President and the Executive Branch, and a loss for Congress and the Legislative Branch, at least in the arena of foreign policy.

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