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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Signing Statements, the Recognition Power, and Israel

An article in The New York Times discusses some issues from the book: presidential signing statements, and the president's authority to recognize foreign governments:

Menachem Zivotofsky was born in Jerusalem. But was he born in Israel?

Congress says yes. In 2002, it directed the State Department to “record the place of birth as Israel” in passports of American children born in Jerusalem if their parents ask.

President George W. Bush signed that bill about three weeks before Menachem was born. But Mr. Bush also said he would not obey it.

(Remember the controversy over Mr. Bush’s flurry of signing statements, in which he expressed reservations and disagreements with acts of Congress even as he signed them into law? This was an example of one.)

The 2002 law, Mr. Bush said, “impermissibly interferes with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs and to supervise the unitary executive branch.”

The status of Jerusalem has long divided not only Israelis and Arabs but also Congress and presidents of both parties. Over Congressional objections, the United States maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv. In his 2002 signing statement, Mr. Bush said, “U.S. policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed.”

This fall, not long after Menachem turns 9, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in his case, which seeks to force the executive branch to follow the 2002 law. The case weaves together generations of conflict in the Middle East, the dueling roles of Congress and the president in the conduct of foreign affairs and the combustible topic of presidential signing statements.


The justices instead not only agreed to hear the case, M.B.Z. v. Clinton, No. 10-699, but also directed the two sides to address the broad question of whether the law “impermissibly infringes the president’s power to recognize foreign sovereigns.”

That power is rooted in the constitutional text, but not in an especially obvious way. The courts have said the president’s authority to “receive ambassadors and other public ministers” implies the power to recognize foreign governments.

A recent article in the University of Richmond Law Review argued that the original understanding of the clause concerning ambassadors did not support that leap. “The Constitution, by its terms, does not give the president the power to recognize foreign states or governments,” wrote Robert J. Reinstein, a law professor at Temple University

Mr. Lewin, too, said the courts had placed too much weight on the business about receiving ambassadors, which he said was not a presidential power but only a duty.

In its brief to the court, the administration warned about the consequences of a ruling against executive authority over this area.