Medellin, along with four others, was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1997 for the rape and murder of two young girls in Houston. Medellin, a Mexican national, then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus because he was not allowed to seek assistance from the Mexican consulate. While this petition was making its way through the legal system, Medellin and 50 other convicted Mexican nationals won their case in the International Court of Justice in March 2004. Under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, foreign nationals are to be given access to their consulates to seek legal assistance. Because they were denied that access, the ICJ ruled that those cases had to be reconsidered.
Ok, so at this point, I have to say that if our government has ratified a treaty, and that treaty protects Americans abroad, then our government should follow that same treaty’s reciprocal protections for foreign nationals in the U.S. The 51 Mexican nationals were denied access to their consulate. That was a mistake. How can that be rectified? If the remedy, under our treaty obligation, is to grant those foreign nationals a reconsideration of their cases, then that is what should be done. If meeting our treaty obligation in the Medellin case means his death sentence could be overturned, then that should be a lesson for prosecutors to learn from.
It’s at this point that things get a little more complicated. There are many intriguing aspects to this case, but I want to simply focus on the Bush Administration part in it. In February 2005, Bush issued a memorandum ordering the Texas courts to follow the ICJ’s ruling. When Medellin’s habeas corpus petition was before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Bush Administration argued that it is the sole authority of the executive to decide if the U.S. has to comply with international law, and that in this case, the U.S. should – meaning that the Texas court should reconsider Medellin’s conviction and sentence. By doing so, the administration joined, among others, anti-death penalty advocates from the U.S. and around the world.
(Here’s where other aspects come into play – the irony of George W. Bush siding with human rights organizations in a capital punishment case – remember what he allegedly said about the Carla Fay Tucker case – and the Supreme Court’s passing the buck on making a decision.)
The Supreme Court sent all of the cases back to the state courts. Before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the Bush Administration made the same argument it had earlier. What gets me is the posture of the administration. The way I see it, Bush believes he alone can decide when our government acknowledges anything in the international realm. In this case, Bush chose to recognize the ICJ’s ruling (in other words, he didn’t bow to pressure from human rights groups or the international community – no – remember Bush is The Decider).
Well, it looks like Bush wasn’t very persuasive back “home” here in Texas, or perhaps he forgot to get John Cornyn to explain to his fellow Texas jurist just how important it is that Bush never lose because the Texas court not only ruled against Bush’s side, but it also ruled that Bush had exceeded his authority. My next step is to research how the other 50 cases go.