May 2, 2011
Court to Hear Challenge to President's Foreign Affairs Power
The Supreme Court today agreed to hear a case involving the justiciability of a dispute over the administration's non-recognition of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. But the Court also instructed the parties to brief the scope of Presidential power to recognize foreign sovereigns. (See page 3 of the May 2 Order List.) The case thus gives the Court a rare opportunity to explore the contours of separation-of-powers in foreign affairs and the President's foreign affairs power.
The case arose out of a dispute over a the recorded birthplace of a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem. Petitioner's mother asked the State Department to record the birthplace as "Jerusalem, Israel" on the petitioner's Consular Report of Birth Abroad and U.S. passport. But the State Department regs and policy required it to record merely "Jerusalem" as the birthplace.
The State Department's long-running policy not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital (or even as a city within Israel's sovereign territory) is designed to preserve U.S. neutrality on state sovereignty over Jerusalem, leaving that issue to be decided by negotiation between the parties to the Arab-Israeli dispute. According to the State Department's assessment, "[a]ny unilateral action by the United States that would signal, symbolically or concretely, that it recognizes that Jerusalem is a city that is located within the sovereign territory of Israel would critically compromise" the peace process.
In 2002, however, Congress enacted, and the President signed, legislation that specifically required the State Department to list "Israel" as the birthplace of any citizen born in Jerusalem, upon the parents' request. President Bush issued a signing statement construing the provision, Section 214 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003, as advisory, not mandatory, because it "impermissibly interfere[s] with the President's constitutional authority to formulate the position of the United States, speak for the Nation in international affairs, and determine teh terms on which the recognition is given to foreign states."
The petitioner sued, but both the district court and D.C. Circuit dismissed the case as a nonjusticiable political question.
The Supreme Court today agreed to hear the case, with this further instruction:
In addition to the question presented by the petition [whether the case presents a nonjusticiable political question], the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: "Whether Section 214 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003, impermissibly infringes the President's power to recognize foreign sovereigns."
The case thus puts front-and-center the question of Presidential authority over foreign affairs when executive policy and action violate plain law. The case is unusual in that executive action and the law directly and obviously conflict, pitting one source of authority (the President's Article II powers) immediately against another (Section 214) and thus bringing Presidential foreign affairs power into particularly sharp focus.
We might also look for anything the Court has to say about Presidential signing statements that decline to enforce a law based on its intrusion into core areas of executive responsibility.
The administration argued against review. In its view, the lower courts properly dismissed the case as a nonjusticiable political question, because under the recognition or nonrecognition of foreign sovereigns is textually committed to the executive branch (under Article II, Section 3, the power to "receive Ambassadors and other Public Ministers."). Baker v. Carr.
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