SUPREME COURT CASE PITS BUSH AND HAGUE WORLD COURT AGAINST TEXAS
OVER DEATH PENALTY FOR MEXICAN
The Associated Press
Published: October 9, 2007
the U.S. president nor an international court can tell the state of Texas how to treat criminal defendants, the state's top Supreme Court
advocate told the justices in a lively argument Wednesday over the fate of a Mexican citizen on death row.
Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz said Jose Ernesto Medellin received a fair trial and adequate representation even though he
was not notified of his right under an international treaty to request help from Mexican diplomats when he was arrested on
suspicion of raping and killing two teenagers in Houston.
state and federal courts concluded there was no prejudice," from the violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention, Cruz said.
International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that U.S. courts should review
the convictions and sentences for Medellin and 50 other Mexican-born
prisoners because of the treaty violation. President George W. Bush has ordered that the ICJ ruling be enforced through new
hearings in state courts.
argument Wednesday, for which an hour was allotted, stretched to nearly 90 minutes as the justices threw question after question
at lawyers for Medellin, the U.S. government
and Texas in a case that mixes Bush administration claims
of executive power with the role of international law in state court proceedings.
Several justices suggested that U.S.
ratification of an agreement promising to abide by the international court's decisions is a sufficient basis for ruling in
Medellin's favor. "The United States gave its promise. It voluntarily complied," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
administration's position is that the president's declaration that the ruling should be enforced is reason enough for Texas to grant Medellin a new hearing.
"Obviously, we feel the president's determination here is a critical element," U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement said.
Justice Antonin Scalia reacted skeptically to that idea. "You're telling us we don't need Congress. The president can make
it domestic law" on his own, Scalia said.
Texas courts have said the international
court ruling has no weight in Texas and that Bush has no
power to order its enforcement.
Medellin was arrested a few days after the killings of Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, in June 1993. He was told
he had a right to remain silent and have a lawyer present, but the police did not tell him that he could request assistance
from the Mexican consulate under the 1963 treaty.
Medellin, who speaks, reads and writes English, gave a written confession. He was convicted of murder in the course of a sexual
assault, a capital offense in Texas. A judge sentenced him
to death in October 1994.
Texas acknowledges that Medellin was not told he could ask for help from Mexican diplomats,
but argues that he forfeited the right because he never raised the issue at trial or sentencing. In any case, the state argues,
the diplomats' intercession would not have made any difference in the outcome of the case.
point, 14 years after the killings, the state says neither the international court nor Bush has any say in Medellin's case.
and federal courts rejected Medellin's claim when he raised
it on appeal.
in 2003, Mexico sued the United States
in the International Court of Justice in The Hague on behalf of Medellin
and 50 other Mexicans on death row in the U.S.
who also had been denied access to their country's diplomats following their arrests.
Mexico has no death penalty. Mexico and other opponents
of capital punishment have sought to use the court, also known as the World Court,
to fight for foreigners facing execution in the U.S.
international court ruled for Mexico in 2004, saying the sentences and
convictions should be reviewed by U.S.
courts. Bush ordered state courts to give the prisoners new state court hearings.
has since withdrawn the United States
from the international agreement that allows the world court to have the final say when citizens claim they were illegally
denied access to their diplomats when they are jailed abroad.