US Supremes to Bush: Don’t mess with Texas

… at least when it comes to the Jose Medellin case, anyway:

Texas has wanted to put Jose Medellin to death for a long time. It looks like the state is going to get its way.

The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday sided with Texas against the Bush administration in a highly charged dispute over whether international treaty obligations can affect state criminal proceedings.

In a 6-3 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court rejected the administration’s claim that Texas should abide by a ruling from a world court that Medellin merited a new trial. Medellin is a Mexican native who has lived most of his life in the United States.

In 1993, Medellin and a gang of boys in Houston attacked, raped and murdered two teenage girls walking home. He was arrested, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to death.

After Medellin was convicted, Mexico brought suit in the International Court of Justice, the judicial body of the United Nations, charging that the U.S. had violated the Vienna Convention. That treaty requires that foreign nationals arrested in a signatory country be allowed to meet with a consular official from their home country. It’s a tool treasured by diplomats, American and otherwise, worldwide.

Mexico brought suit because is critical of capital punishment in the United States. Mexico claimed that Medellin and 50 other Mexican nationals on Death Row in the U.S. had been denied their right to consult with its consulate, where they would have received legal assistance in an effort to avoid a death sentence.

The international court found for Mexico in 2004 and told the U.S. to review the convictions and death sentences of the 51 Mexican nationals.

The White House criticized the ruling, but in 2005 it startled Texas officials and others by saying it would comply. President Bush ordered the Texas courts to allow Medellin’s habeas corpus claim challenging his conviction to go forward.

Texas state courts have found repeatedly that under state law, Medellin has no right to challenge his conviction and sentence, even if the Vienna treaty was violated. There is no dispute that Medellin wasn’t notified of his treaty rights when he was arrested, but the state has argued he failed to raise that objection at trial, forfeiting the claim.

The Bush administration claimed a memo signed by Bush had the force of federal law on the state, ordering it to set aside Medellin’s conviction. In the opinion released today, it’s clear the majority of the court didn’t buy that. Moreover, the court seems to suggest that the United States’ international treaty obligations don’t obligate the country to do very much.

The six-justice majority held that the treaties involved were not “self-executing,” meaning they required an act of Congress to implement its obligations and give them the force of federal law. Bush’s memorandum, the court held, exceeded his executive branch authority.

I wrote about this case back in October and noted that while I was disappointed with the Bush admin, that this wasn’t a case where Bush wanted to “side with a murderer” as, unfortunately, some on our own side of the aisle asserted. It was a bit more complicated than that:

What I see here is an administration that feels/felt beholden to the US’ obligations under the Vienna Convention, which is very likely why they buckled after the ICJ’s ruling, and in turn ordered a review of the Medellin case. So contrary to the assertions of some bloggers I’ve seen write about this, the Bush administration isn’t ‘siding’ with a killer – it’s trying to hold true to the US’ promise under the Vienna Convention. Clearly, they didn’t/don’t like having to do this, as from the article we see that they later withdrew the US from the Vienna Convention. And for the record, we all know that Bush is no friend to brutal criminals. During his one term as governor of Texas, 152 executions took place – supposedly a modern day “record” – and spent very little time reviewing clemency petitions, which drove liberal bleeding-hearts nuts.

That said, I find it appalling that the Bush administration bowed down and didn’t fight the ICJ ruling – we’re not nor should we ever be beholden to any international court. Not only that, but if you take into consideration the fact that the administration will fight tooth and nail over many issues they are passionate about – like FISA and the Patriot Act – it makes no sense why they didn’t fight against the ICJ ruling. As you’ll soon learn, the real victims in all this deserve a President who will fight for their justice in keeping this rapist/killer behind bars and one day seeing him executed, instead of re-opening old wounds with a new trial.

The names of the two teenagers Medellin, along with several other gang members, brutally raped and murdered, are Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena. Several years ago, while searching online for websites devoted to victim’s rights, I came across the Victim’s Voices website. It’s a site that has numerous tribute pages to murder victims. The woman who created the website is a loved one of either Jennifer or Elizabeth and the first tribute created on that page was for them. I bookmarked the site on my desktop, and revisited it often, as the story of what happened to Jennifer and Elizabeth haunted me. For a while it was offline, but I see it’s back on again, and as hard as it is to read, I hope everyone reading this post will visit this link and read the horror of what Jennifer and Elizabeth had to go through the night they were raped and murdered, in order to get a full understanding of not only what they had to go through, but what their families have had to endure not just from day one of finding out what happened to their loved ones, but also having to relive it thanks to the Bush administration’s decision to bow to the ICJ, rather than fight for Elizabeth and Jennifer. I have no doubt in my mind that the President doesn’t want to see Medellin go free. I just wish they would have fought harder against the ICJ ruling and for Elizabeth and Jennifer.

In the end, the Bush admin was on the wrong side on this case, and I’m glad the USSC ruled as it did. Jonathan Adler from The Volokh Conspiracy legal blog has a quick opinion on the ruling, and posts some links to other legal discussions about it from around the blogosphere. NRO’s Bench Memos writers have weighed in as well in several posts.

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