U.S. Supreme Court Hears Jerusalem Case


American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Jerusalem Case

Washington, DC | www.adc.org | November 6, 2014 – The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Zivotofsky v. Kerry on Monday, November 3. The Supreme Court will determine the constitutionality of a statute that directs the State Department to allow U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their place of birth on their U.S. passports. ADC’s legal staff attended the hearing on Monday.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed an amicus brief in support of the State Department, arguing that the statute violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because it “effectively excludes Palestinian Americans born in Jerusalem from rights and/or benefits bestowed to other American citizens born in Jerusalem.” 

Below is an excerpt from the oral arguments, in which Justices Ginsberg and Kagan reference ADC’s equal protection argument by noting the discriminatory effect that the statute would have on Palestinian Americans: 

Justice Ginsberg: What about Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem and want to have Palestine as their place of birth? That existed until 1948 that option.

Ms. Lewin (Counsel for Zivotofsky):  Correct, Justice Ginsburg, because at that point there was, before 1948, a Palestine. So the – the law was not going so far –

Justice Kagan: Now, people can—Palestinians cannot – American-born Palestinians cannot do that. And that suggests that Congress had a view, and the view was that Jerusalem was properly part of Israel.  

The complete transcript of the oral arguments can be read here.

In its amicus brief, ADC explained the sensitive status of Jerusalem for the three Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. ADC argued that “identifying Jerusalem as being under Israeli sovereignty on a government document is discriminatory to Christian and Muslim Americans, because it benefits one religion over others.”

Since President Harry Truman recognized the nation of Israel in 1948, the Executive Branch has consistently exercised its duty to attempt to preserve peace by maintaining Jerusalem’s neutral status. At the end of the arguments, Justice Kagan also commented on the sensitive status of Jerusalem, refuting the petitioner’s argument that the passport statute is “no big deal.”

Justice Kagan explained, “History suggests that everything is a big deal with respect to the status of Jerusalem.  And right now, Jerusalem is a tinderbox because of issues about the status of and access to a particularly holy site there.” 

Last week, ADC Legal & Policy Director Abed Ayoub explained the issues of the case and the implications of the court’s decision in a Q&A with the Institute for Middle East Understanding, and explained why the executive branch is better suited to determine foreign policy in an op-ed in The Hill.

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