Zivotofsky v. Clinton

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: March 26, 2012
  • Case #: 10-699
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Roberts, C. J. delivered the opinion of the Court, which Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Kagen, JJ., joined. Sotomayor, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment which Breyer, J., joined as to Part I. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

The district court's determination of whether a Jerusalem-born US citizen may choose to have Israel listed as his place of birth on his passport is not barred by political question doctrine.

Petitioner is a minor child born in Jerusalem to U.S. citizens. Petitioner’s mother applied for a U.S. passport on his behalf, and requested that his birthplace be recorded as “Jerusalem, Israel” pursuant to § 214 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which directs the Secretary of State, upon a citizen’s request, to identify a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem as born in “Israel” on a passport. Upon signing the Act, however, President George W. Bush stated that § 214 was merely advisory because it interfered with the Executive’s sole constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments. The State Department refused Petitioner’s request, and issued a passport that identified only Jerusalem as his place of birth. Petitioner filed suit requesting injunctive relief ordering the State Department to comply with § 214(d) of the Act. The District Court dismissed Petitioner’s claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the issue was not justiciable because it raised a political question dealing with the Executive’s power and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed.

The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the lower court and remanded the case, finding Petitioner’s claim did not raise a political question, thereby permitting judicial review. Reaffirming that the political question doctrine implicates only those issues constitutionally committed to a coordinate political department, the Court held that Petitioner’s claim did not force the Judicial Branch to determine whether Jerusalem was the capital of Israel. Instead, the Court found the only issue was the constitutionality of § 214, and whether Congress had impermissibly interfered with the Executive’s authority, an issue squarely within the province of the judiciary. Because the Supreme Court is the court of "final review and not first view", the Court remanded the case for a lower court’s determination of the merits.

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