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US court opposes law on passports, Jerusalem

July 23, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. appeals court Tuesday declared unconstitutional a law allowing Americans born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their birthplace on their U.S. passports, saying it infringes on the president’s exercise of the power to recognize foreign governments.

The case was brought by parents of a U.S. boy named Menachem Zivotofsky, who was born in a Jerusalem hospital soon after the law was passed. The parents wanted to list Israel as his birthplace, but the U.S. has refused to recognize any nation’s sovereignty over Jerusalem since Israel’s creation in 1948 — so the boy’s U.S. passport only says “Jerusalem” as his birthplace.

Longstanding U.S. foreign policy says the status of Jerusalem should be resolved in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Bush administration said Congress may not tell the president what to do regarding this aspect of foreign relations, and the Obama administration has taken the same position.

The law was part of a large foreign affairs bill that President George W. Bush signed into law. But even as he did so, Bush issued a signing statement in which he said that “U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed.”

Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wrote Tuesday’s opinion, saying the purpose of the passport law was to alter U.S. foreign policy toward Jerusalem. She noted its title is “United States Policy with Respect to Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel.”

The attorney for the Zivotofskys, Nathan Lewin, said in a statement that he’ll try to get the case heard in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We hope that before Menachem Zivotofsky’s bar mitzvah he will be able to bear a passport that recognizes his birthplace as ‘Israel,’” Lewin wrote. Jewish boys have their bar mitzvah at the age of 13.

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Associated Press writer Frederic J. Frommer contributed.