Who Exercises Sovereignty Over Taiwan?

Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued an interesting opinion concerning efforts by Taiwanese people to obtain internationally recognized passports. Judge Brown's opinion for the court in United States v. Lin begins:

America and China's tumultuous relationship over the past sixty years has trapped the inhabitants of Taiwan in political purgatory. During this time the people on Taiwan have lived without any uniformly recognized government. In practical terms, this means they have uncertain status in the world community which infects the population's day-to-day lives. This pervasive ambiguity has driven Appellants to try to concretely define their national identity and personal rights.

Initially, the individual Appellants sought modest relief: they wanted passports. More specifically, they wanted internationally recognized passports. Now, however, Appellants seek much more. They want to be U.S. nationals with all related rights and privileges, including U.S. passports. Determining Appellants' nationality would require us to trespass into a controversial area of U.S. foreign policy in order to resolve a question the Executive Branch intentionally left unanswered for over sixty years: who exercises sovereignty over Taiwan. This we cannot do. Because the political question doctrine bars consideration of Appellants' claims, the district court had no choice but to dismiss Appellants' complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, we affirm.