Enormous Implications in Medellín Supreme Court Case
The Supreme Court heard arguments on the case of Medellín v. Texas this week. This case involves crucial questions of separation of powers, federalism and the application of decisions by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in our judicial system.
In 1993, José Ernesto Medellín was arrested for the rape and murder of two young women in Houston. At the time of his arrest, Medellín, a Mexican national, was not advised of his right to seek assistance from the Mexican consul, nor was the Mexican consul alerted of his arrest as required by Article 36 of the Vienna Convention to which the United States is bound.
Medellín was tried and convicted of the capital offense of murder during the course of a sexual assault. The jury unanimously recommended a death sentence, and the judge imposed the death penalty. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Medellín's conviction.
Though at no time during the trial or appeal was the Vienna Convention issue raised, after communicating with the Mexican consul, Medellín raised the issue in seeking habeas corpus relief. The district court rejected his Vienna Convention claim because it found that he failed to show that he was harmed by any failure to notify the consulate. Remember, he confessed to the crime. Another problem the courts throughout his numerous appeals found was that Medellín failed to raise the Vienna Convention claim at any time during trial and usually when a defense is not raised at trial it is waived.
In 2003, Mexico initiated proceedings against the United States in the ICJ in the Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals also sentenced to death in the US, which included Medellín's case. The ICJ rejected Mexico's request for annulment of the convictions and sentences, but concluded that the United States must provide "review and reconsideration" of the sentences and convictions of Medellín and the other 50 Mexican nationals.
The United States Supreme Court granted cert. to answer whether a federal court was bound by the ICJ's decision in Avena that U.S. courts must reconsider Medellín's Vienna Convention claim without regard to procedural default doctrines or as a matter of judicial comity and uniform treaty interpretation.
But the matter was further complicated when the President issued a memorandum to the U.S. Attorney General saying:
I have determined, pursuant to the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, that the United States will discharge its international obligations under the decision of the International Court of Justice in [Avena], by having State courts give effect to the decision in accordance with general principles of comity in cases filed by the 51 Mexican nationals addressed in that decision.1
Medellín started a new proceeding asking the court to enforce the President's new "order," but this argument was rejected. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that, as a matter of state law, neither Avena nor the presidential memorandum constituted a previously unavailable "factual basis" or a "legal basis" for Medellín's habeas claims.
As you can see, this case involves enormous issues of federalism and separation of powers in particular. The Supreme Court must decide two questions:
- Are state courts bound to follow the decision of the ICJ?
- Does the President have the power to require the ICJ decision to be enforced in state court by way of a presidential memorandum?
If the Supreme Court rules that a state court must follow the decision reached by the ICJ, will it not collide with the very essence of who we are as a sovereign nation? It would be a major shift in our jurisprudence for the Supreme Court to find that the President can order a state court to implement the decisions of the ICJ. I cannot imagine the Supreme Court actually holding this.
It would not only trample all over issues of federalism - the federal government ordering the states what to do with a state criminal offender - but it will also be a violation of the separation of powers - the executive branch ordering the judiciary to abide by the ICJ decision.
These issues strike at the heart of the American constitutional structure. The three branches of government serve to diffuse power and to safeguard us from the usurpation of our rights. Only by ensuring that these checks and balances stay in place can we be good stewards of the freedom we currently enjoy. This is a historic case involving many aspects of our government, and its decision will have great legal and political ramifications.
We at Concerned Women for America (CWA) believe in the power of prayer. We must pray that the Lord will provide clarity and wisdom to each Justice to reach the proper decision in such an important case. Let us remember them throughout this session as they deal with this and other cases that will inevitably have a great impact in our lives and on this great nation.
"For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding." (Proverbs 2:6)
- Brief for Respondent at 6, Medellín v. Texas, No. 06-984 (2007).
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