ZOA Dismayed: U.S. Court Refuses To Enforce U.S. Law Granting Jerusalem-Born U.S. Citizens Right To Have “Israel” Listed On Official Documents
July 15, 2009


            The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is disappointed by the decision issued last Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, upholding the lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit by an American citizen born in Jerusalem who wanted to have “Israel” listed as his birthplace on his U.S. passport and other official documents.  Congress granted this right in 2002 in legislation signed into law by President George W. Bush.  Before the law was enacted, the documents of U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem listed “Jerusalem” only, with no country of birth.  After the law was passed, the State Department continued to list only “Jerusalem” on the documents of U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem, even when citizens requested that “Israel” be recorded as their birthplace.


            The parents of Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, an American citizen born in Jerusalem, sued the State Department to enforce his right to have Israel listed as his birthplace on his U.S. passport and other official documents.  The ZOA filed a similar complaint on behalf of another American citizen born in Jerusalem, and the two cases were consolidated.


The district court initially dismissed the cases, deciding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, and that the cases raised a political question that the court could not resolve.  Zivotofsky appealed, represented by the esteemed Washington, D.C. legal team of Nathan Lewin, Esq. – a member of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice’s advisory board – and Alyza Lewin, Esq.  The Court of Appeals concluded that Zivotofsky had standing and sent the case back to the district court to develop a more complete record.  When the district court dismissed the case, concluding that it raised a political question that the courts could not decide, Zivotofksy appealed again.


Last Friday, ignoring the U.S. legislation that both Houses of Congress had passed and that President Bush had signed into law, the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, concluding that the case raised a political question – the power to define U.S. policy regarding Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem – which the courts do not have jurisdiction to address.  The Court’s Senior Judge concurred with the result, but decided that the 2002 law was unconstitutional, encroaching on the President’s recognition power regarding Jerusalem.


            Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, were disappointed by the Court’s decision:  “The Court of Appeals said that our government’s policy on Jerusalem is unclear, and that the Executive alone has the authority to recognize sovereignty over Jerusalem.  But Congress shares foreign policy powers with the Executive Branch.  Fourteen years ago, with overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and it became law. The law recognizes that every sovereign nation has the right to designate its own capital, that the State of Israel has designated its capital as Jerusalem, and that it is the policy of the United States that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital.  American citizens like Menachem Binyamin Zivotofksy, who are born in Israel’s designated capital, should have the right to have that fact reflected on their official documents.”

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