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Passport Says What, Now?

June 8, 2015

I know this can seem confusing, especially depending on the news source one reads, but the Supreme Court has released its ruling on the case labeled Zivotofsky v. Kerry. It all comes down to the passport of American citizens wanting to label their city of birth as “Jerusalem, Israel” or simply “Jerusalem.” The Court ruled the nation, in this case, cannot be cited. The executive branch is happy with this, and Congress is not.

Simple enough, right? I wish.

In the first place, the executive branch has protested the use of listing “Israel” on the passport since the implementation of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, in 2002. This listing of nationality in the passport reflects the geopolitical stance of the American executive branch, the President and the State Department, inasmuch as the United States recognizes foreign governments. Nevertheless, this federal statute has stood for 12 years now contrary to the will of the executive branch. The Supreme Court has overturned this law, in effect validating the office of the Chief Executive to determine foreign policy without meddling or contravention of Congress.

The short version? The Congress wants the nation listed, the President doesn’t, and the Court sided with the President, who has constitutionally been the one to decide such things. However, the precedent set by this case is the President can determine such matters without Congress (unilaterally, as he has so far anyway), and thus far, without clear boundaries of where our federal legislature comes into play at all except in adopting treaty chief executives have already negotiated—presumably, in the best interests of the United States people.

Still, it is not a good thing the executive branch has gotten the means for even more power, as potentially sanctioned from the Supreme Court, involving foreign relations when it already drones everyone it doesn’t like without any due process through the judicial branch, legislature, or international legal systems.

There is a lot to be said about the balance of powers here between the executive branch, in its administration of foreign policy, and the degree of oversight Congress has over it. That is being discussed plenty about now. Personally, I think Congress was wrong to pass law expressly antipodal to the President’s position and create this crucible forcing the third federal branch to sort it out this way. There should have been some sort of compromise between the two branches. Also, in my opinion, this specific matter of passports does fall under executive control; the State Department is an executive office, and it manages international relations. It only follows the President’s sentiments should reflect any such documentation. It should be tempered by Congress, but without a compromise, this is what happens.

There are a few main issues lost here, and I want to address them. Let me know what you think about them.

  1. There are caveats to “Congress was wrong,” as I stated above. The federal statute of 2002, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, was legal code and rightfully enacted. As such, it is the executive branch’s obligation to enforce whatever statute exists regardless of how George H. W. Bush, Jr., Barack Obama, or any one Chief Executive feels about it. Other Supreme Court cases have been ruled to this exact circumstance, and for the Court to ignore how chief executives have chosen to ignore statutes not befitting their wills is simply negligent. The executive branch should have been reprimanded in the Court’s opinion if it wasn’t. It should be forced to make amends if possible, but who would enforce it? President Andrew Jackson already showed the President can disregard the Court with impunity, and that was before the age of technological excess.
  2. The Court is political just like the other two branches. There have been Justices of the Supreme Court speaking to its objectivity in comparison, but this is outright lie. Let’s not forget that. This is a factor in determining this verdict—and it shall have implications in executive behavior regarding foreign policy after this case. It may even be used by the President in some future crisis to shield or hide someone abroad, as Congress could subpoena this person and the executive branch would simply deny the right of Congressional subpoena based on Presidential control of international relations.
  3. Legal measures like ACTA and TPP are in the works around the world today, and in operation the way they are lately, traditional protocol of Congressional adoption of treaty is all but useless anyway. Great. Now the President may do whatever his financiers—I mean he—wants without as much checks and balances from Congress, who admittedly overstepped in this case by making outright conflict over this matter rather than coming to some sort of political compromise that doesn’t leave thousands of Americans with passports in limbo regarding what they are allowed or required to write in them.
  4. In effect, this ruling means also a passport does not reflect the fact the U. S. federal legislature recognizes Israel as a sovereign state, but rather it shows State Department policy in that it recognizes the city of Jerusalem as an “international city” only—and because it is not a nation-state unto itself, like the Vatican, I can’t even fathom what that means or why it matters. Apparently no one recognizes Jerusalem as the rightful possession of Israel but Israel, yet no one has dealt with that. There must be some angle not being accounted for here: involving American support of Israel amidst Middle Eastern disagreement, or something to account for why it matters so much for future potentialities for other cities (like Pyongyang, perhaps).

Now for the long-term consequences of other foreign-born U. S. citizens. How is it going to be perceived by a customs official if I was born in Moscow, Minnesota, if I don’t list the state or nation? Better or worse? Does this affect someone from there? Is it up to the federal government to make that choice for me in all cases, or just a city-by-city basis? They’d better get to work if it is case-by-case. There are millions of cities in the world. It could get tedious.

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