The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a Jerusalem-born boy's challenge to policy that prevents him from having his passport show he was born in Israel.
Middle Eastern politics and the battle between Congress and the president over foreign policy are at play in the case being argued at the high court Monday.
The Obama administration, like its Republican and Democratic predecessors, says it doesn't want to stir up anger in the Arab world by appearing to take a position on the ultimate fate of Jerusalem. Longstanding U.S. policy says the status of the city that is important to Jews, Muslims and Christians should be resolved in negotiations.
Israel has proclaimed the once-divided city as its capital; the U.S. and most nations do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital.
But lawyers for 9-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky argue that the foreign policy concerns are trivial. Thirty-nine lawmakers from both parties are siding with the boy and his parents, defending a provision in a 2002 law that allows Israel to be listed as the birthplace for Americans born in Jerusalem.
President George W. Bush signed the much larger law, but said the provision on Jerusalem interfered with his power over foreign affairs, including the authority to recognize foreign states. Bush issued a signing statement at the time in which he said that "U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed."
Had Menachem been born in Tel Aviv, the State Department would have issued a passport listing his place of birth as Israel. The regular practice for recording the birth of a U.S. citizen abroad is to list the country where it occurred. But the department's guide tells consular officials, "For a person born in Jerusalem, write Jerusalem as the place of birth in the passport."
In late 2002, Naomi Zivotofsky, Menachem's mother, showed up at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to get her baby a U.S. passport, one that listed Israel as his birthplace. After State Department officials refused her request, the family sued.
The Zivotofkys and their supporters at the Supreme Court point out that other federal agencies, including the Defense and Justice Departments, refer in official documents to "Jerusalem, Israel." The legal briefs also note that the hospital where Menachem was born is in west Jerusalem, over which there is no dispute about Israeli sovereignty, except by parties that oppose the nation's existence at all.
The family also says that the State Department has made an exception for U.S citizens born in Taiwan. Their passports may list their place of birth as Taiwan, rather than China.
Federal courts have so far said they have no authority to consider the matter, which they have labeled a political dispute that is best resolved by the other two branches of government without court involvement.
The Supreme Court has asked for argument on that issue, as well as on the substance of the family's plea that the law regarding passports be enforced.