Supreme Court rules against Bush in death-row case
A 6-to-3 majority said the president can't order a state court to abide by an international court ruling.
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The issue before the ICJ was whether Medellin and 50 other Mexican nationals had been granted access to the Mexican consulate after being arrested in the US.Skip to next paragraph
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Such access is required under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, an international treaty. It mandates that foreign nationals – including American citizens – arrested overseas be entitled to meet with diplomats from their home country. It also requires the detaining country to notify consular officials when one of their nationals is arrested.
Because American authorities had violated the treaty provision, the ICJ ordered new hearings to determine whether the violation prejudiced the underlying criminal cases.
The Medellin case took on larger importance after the president issued his controversial memorandum. The case was being closely watched by constitutional scholars because it raised a host of thorny issues touching on the scope of presidential power, the separation of powers, federalism, and the authority of international rulings to trump state-court proceedings.
In an opinion concurring in the judgment, Justice John Paul Stevens encouraged the Texas judiciary to voluntarily reverse its position and comply with the international ruling.
"The fact that the President cannot legislate unilaterally does not absolve the United States from its promise to take action necessary to comply with the ICJ's judgment," Justice Stevens wrote.
"One consequence of our form of government is that sometimes States must shoulder the primary responsibility for protecting the honor and integrity of the Nation," he wrote. "Texas' duty in this respect is all the greater since it was Texas that – by failing to provide consular notice in accordance with the Vienna Convention – ensnared the United States in the current controversy."
Stevens added: "Having already put the Nation in breach of one treaty, it is now up to Texas to prevent the breach of another."
The Medellin case and the related international dispute stem from the 1993 gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in Texas. The girls were walking home when Medellin and his friends chased, raped, and killed them.
Medellin was 18 and had spent most of his life in the US. He could read, write, and speak English. But because he was born in Mexico and had never become a US citizen, he had a right under the treaty to consult Mexican consular officials upon his arrest.
Medellin was represented by court-appointed counsel during his trial, but he did not learn of his right to discuss the case with Mexican officials until after he was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of the two girls.
Lawyers for Medellin raised the issue on appeal but lost. Then the Mexican government filed suit in the ICJ against the US for failing to provide consular notification and access as required by the treaty.
The ICJ ruled against the US. It ordered that Medellin and the 50 other convicted Mexican nationals be given special hearings to determine if the treaty violation undercut their ability to receive a fair trial.
Although the Bush administration objected to the ICJ ruling, the president later wrote a memorandum ordering the Texas courts to give Medellin a new hearing on the issue. The Texas courts refused, saying Medellin had already received a fair trial.