[warning: impromptu incoherent conspiracy theorist legal ramblings of a second-year law student with no immediate access to internets]
The more reading I do surrounding Medellin v. Texas, the more upset I get because the decision to ignore the International Court of Justice’s ruling in this matter reinforces three principles:
Principle 1. The United States of America continues to have no respect for international law or the rights of human beings.
Principle 2. The United States of America has a half-assed interpretation of its own law and does not honor its word when working with international bodies through governmental loopholes.
Principle 3. President George W. Bush is a power hungry git who manages to be wrong even when he should be right.
First, a news commentary from U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (TX), written around 2007:
In mid-October, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on a criminal case from Texas that poses yet another threat to our sovereignty. The case involved Jose Ernesto Medellin, a foreign citizen convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 in the brutal rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston.
Long after his sentence was final, Medellin’s lawyers came up with a new appeal point. They argued that because Medellin was not a U.S. citizen, and under the Vienna Convention the Mexican consulate should have been notified when he was arrested, his appeal should be reopened. This argument was accepted in 2004 by a foreign tribunal, the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Medellin was indeed born in Mexico, but lived in the U.S. most of his life. He speaks, reads and writes English, and attended U.S. schools. Disappointingly, the Bush Administration has issued a directive to Texas officials attempting to enforce the foreign court’s judgment, and also backed Medellin’s side at the U.S. Supreme Court.
I have argued that the President lacks constitutional authority to direct Texas to reopen Medellin’s conviction. In my opinion, the President cannot by himself transform an international treaty, and especially a foreign court’s judgment, into domestic law.
So…when people come over to America to find work and raise families, attempt to learn English as much as possible (when they’re not working to support said families), and try to live as far under the radar as possible even though citizenship would be totally desirable, they’re damned dirty illegal aliens who need to get out, get out, get out.
But when people come over to America, live here their whole lives, read, write, and speak fluent English — but commit heinous crimes and get sentenced to death, and they say blatantly, “I AM NOT A CITIZEN OF THIS COUNTRY; THERE ARE LAWS ABOUT THIS FACT” and want their rights as entitled by international law — they’re American enough that a state can ignore international law and Mexico’s request to intervene?
I did not realize the United States has never recognized the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Apparently, we signed it; but the geniuses in the U.S. Senate around that time never made it binding on our government. It appears that the same principles govern the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations — we may have signed it but the U.S. Senate didn’t give its advice and consent to the treaty to make it fully binding. Mexico challenged the United States’ actions in the International Court of Justice in The Hague under the latter treaty in 2004, and the World Court ruled that the U.S. must recognize the provision in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and notify Mexico that its nationals are in prison so they can provide aid and consult with the incarcerated men, according to Article 26, Paragraph 1(c):
[Article 26, Paragraph 1(c)]
With a view to facilitating the exercise of consular functions relating to nationals of the sending State [...] consular officers shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation. They shall also have the right to visit any national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention in their district in pursuance of a judgement. Nevertheless, consular officers shall refrain from taking action on behalf of a national who is in prison, custody or detention if he expressly opposes such action.
In relevant part, today’s Supreme Court decision collectively screws Mexican nationals sentenced to death for various crimes around the country, including Mr. Medellin:
In a case that mixes presidential power, international relations and the death penalty, the court sided with Texas and rebuked Bush by a 6-3 vote.
The president was in the unusual position of siding with death row prisoner Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican citizen whom police prevented from consulting with Mexican diplomats, as provided by international treaty.
An international court ruled in 2004 that the convictions of Medellin and 50 other Mexicans on death row around the United States violated the 1963 Vienna Convention, which provides that people arrested abroad should have access to their home country’s consular officials. The International Court of Justice, also known as the world court, said the Mexican prisoners should have new court hearings to determine whether the violation affected their cases.
Now, I hate when President Bush tries to extend his power illegally. I do. And I think our Cowboy Prince fucked all these men over because he was trying to extend his presidential power illegally. Or (and this is more insidious) he wanted more assurance that if an international court ever tries to prosecute him and his buddies for war crimes, the United States would have complete freedom to ignore the rulings as non-binding even if the executive branch orders it. Congress takes forever to do mostly everything; it’s unlikely that both houses would jump at the chance to enforce an international court order, especially with Nancy “Impeachment Off the Table” Pelosi running (more like ruining) the House of Representatives. (But that is my inner conspiracy theorist going craaaaaazy.)
[White House Press Secretary Dana Perino] noted that the administration’s position in the case was focused on the authority it believed the president has to compel a state to comply with international agreements. “The argument of the United States in this case in no way condoned or defended the heinous crime,” Perino said.
Bush, who oversaw 152 executions as Texas governor, disagreed with the decision. But he said it must be carried out by state courts because the United States had agreed to abide by the world court’s rulings in such cases. The administration argued that the president’s declaration is reason enough for Texas to grant Medellin a new hearing.
I slightly forgive Justice Stevens for his concurrence because he was caught in a Catch-22 — either illegally broaden the President’s power because the Senate is full of pricks and doesn’t give all the treaties the U.S. signs force (rough translation: make it so the President can ignore Congress in yet another way) or refuse to give the Cowboy Prince any power and screw a bunch of Mexican nationals because this country will not comply with their international rights (rough translation: ignore international law completely and pretend the U.S. isn’t subject to anything but itself; America fuck yeah rah rah barf).
Justice John Paul Stevens, while agreeing with the outcome of the case, said nothing prevents Texas from giving Medellin another hearing even though it is not compelled to do so.
“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 said.
In the scheme of this entire matter, the argument from Texas would make no sense IF the United States enforced the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Let’s look at some quick facts from the Forbes article.
Medellin was arrested a few days after the killings of Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, in Houston 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.
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 acknowledged that Medellin was not told he could ask for help from Mexican diplomats, but argued that he forfeited the right because he never raised the issue at trial or sentencing. In any case, the state said, the diplomats’ intercession would not have made any difference in the outcome of the case. [Emphasis added.]
Now, if I’m reading the particular provision of this treaty correctly, Medellin could not forfeit such a right if he was not made aware that he had it. Reason being, the provision of the treaty mentions that the national has to expressly oppose the intervention of the consulate in order for the consul not to act on his behalf. Express, the opposite of implied, meaning that people have to know about what they’re forfeiting and say, “I forfeit it; bah and humbug,” before it is forfeited. Similar to how an arrested criminal has to waive Miranda rights by saying “I waive my Miranda rights” or by signing a form stating they understand their Miranda rights and expressly waive them to talk with the police.
These circumstances obviously didn’t happen here. And obviously, the opportunity for a foreign government to intervene and possibly to get these death row inmates better representation, etc., would’ve made no difference. Yeah, right. Sure.
At least someone had the balls to question whether or not compliance with a World Court ruling is debatable, according to the SCOTUSblog recap of the October 2007 oral argument:
Among the Justices, only David H. Souter spent some time exploring whether the Court could avoid a decision that would reject the President’s authority to implement the World Court judgment by simply ruling, on its own, that the international tribunal’s decision on the Mexican nationals was binding. Questioning Cruz, for example, Souter wondered whether there was any “positive rule, in international or domestic law, which precludes this Court from being the implementing authority” of a World Court decision? The state’s lawyer replied that the Court was “the final authority to determine federal law,” but said that, if it were to do so in the Medellin case, it would have to overrule its ruling of a year ago in the case of Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon finding that the Vienna Convention does not give foreign nationals a right to claim violation of their Convention rights if such claims are barred by state criminal procedures.
Souter was one of the three justices to dissent with the holding (along with Breyer and Ginsburg…of course).
Medellin’s lawyer and the Justice Department take the view that the Sanchez-Llamas decision only dealt with an interpretation of the Convention’s meaning, not with an actual Court judgment in a specific case. Medellin contends, though, that the judgment is binding on the state on its own terms, under the Supremacy Clause, but the government takes the view that it is to be implemented because the President has said so. [Emphasis added.]
So if I’m correctly understanding the argument of Medellin’s lawyer, Donald F. Donovan, when an international court rules on a treaty provision being violated, the federal government must treat that ruling as binding authority and enforce it because the federal government agreed to honor the treaty upon signing it and the executive branch has the job of executing the treaty. Not because Le Bastard Bush said so — and I don’t doubt that was the whole of the smirking chimp’s argument.
I’m utterly floored that one of Roberts’ challenges to all this is asking where the Supreme Court comes into the equation:
If the World Court’s judgment on the Mexican nationals’ legal rights here were binding federal law inside the U.S., Roberts wondered, would the Justices have any authority to second-guess the content of that law? “We would have no authority to review the judgment itself?” he asked with notable skepticism.
Uhhh…NO. The Supreme Court presides over the law of the United States, not the international law of the World Court. I know how “World Court” sounds a little like “World Series,” with the latter mostly involving baseball teams from the United States and the former involving international law binding on most of THE WORLD. But no, Roberts, you and the Black Robe Crew 4 Lyfe do not have automatic judicial review of cases heard in the World Court because it involves more than the United States, sry 2 say. No crazy backasswards sovereignty over the world for you.
The Supreme Court, however, can dictate how the federal government enforces treaties. That clever ploy of the U.S. signing treaties without the Senate binding the country to the agreement is real cute under these circumstances. Now, if we go by today’s ruling, the Supreme Court intervenes by telling the executive branch that it cannot enforce a treaty because it infringes upon the will of the states,
thereby ignoring the World Court’s enforcement of a treaty to which the United States SHOULD be held accountable,
AND ignoring the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution when Bush, God bless/damn him, tries to enforce the treaty
…to appease the state of Texas (as well as a few others).
Did I get that right?
Way to go, Roberts & Co. Powerful Americentric Jackasses ‘R’ U.