Yesterday the Supreme Court heard the case on whether passports for children born in the city of Jerusalem should just say “Jerusalem” as they do now, or say “Jerusalem, Israel” as an act of Congress requires. Many on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian issue have been getting worked up about this (for obvious reasons), but this case actually has nothing to do with Israel or Palestine. It’s really about signing statements – yes, our old friend from the Bush administration, signing statements.
What basically happened is that the State Department has a policy of neutrality towards the status of Jerusalem when it comes to passports. If you were born in Jerusalem, your passport simply said “Jersualem” as your place of birth. Congress didn’t like this policy and passed a law stating that passports should list people born in Jerusalem as having been born in “Jerusalem, Israel.” Bush (W) signed the bill but issued a signing statement that he would not comply with the passport provision because it encroached on the authority of the President in foreign affairs.
So here is the conflict: If the court uphold the current rule and does not allow the passport to say “Jerusalem, Israel” it will essentially be saying that the President’s signing statement overrides the act of Congress even though the act specifically contradicts the signing statement. If Congress strikes down the neutrality provision and requires the passport to say “Jerusalem, Israel” it will be because it holds that the President may not ignore an act of Congress even in foreign affairs. If you’re a progressive who supports neutrality on Jerusalem, be careful what you wish for and take a look at who your allies are. If you’re like me and would like to see Congress reassert itself in foreign and military affairs then the neutrality provision is collateral damage, but well worth it.
You can read this an my earlier posts at my blog, Rational Persuasion