Harris County, Texas, Judge
has set Aug. 5 as the date for execution of José Ernesto Medellín, whose bid for relief the U.S. Supreme Court rejected in a 6-3 decision issued at the end of March.
At issue in
Medellín v. Texas
was Article 36(b) of the 1963
Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
, which requires law-enforcement agents to advise noncitizen suspects of their right to contact their consulate (prior posts
). The enforceability
of that article had been the subject of considerable litigation in the United States and in the International Court of Justice. In
—involving a death-row petitioner who, like many persons arrested in the United States for decades after America joined the treaty regime, never was advised of his consular-access rights—the Supreme Court was called upon to consider:
Did President George W. Bush overstep his constitutional authority by instructing state courts to give to defendants like Medellín “review and reconsider[ation]” of their cases, as mandated by the International Court of Justice in
Mexico v. Unit
ed States (Avena)
Must a court in the United States honor the United States’ treaty obligation by itself enforcing the ICJ’s decision?
Both issues having been pressed, the court decided both. Treating the latter question first, Chief Justice
John G. Roberts Jr.
answered “No,” in an opinion that interpreted precedents on whether a treaty provision is self-executing more narrowly than they were treated in, for example, the
Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations of the United States
(1987). The answer to the former question was “Yes”—in telling a constituent state what to do, the president had violated the Constitution. The dissent of Justice
Stephen G. Breyer
relied on the earlier view of nonself-execution doctrine. But to no avail; Breyer was joined by only Justices David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (
Margaret E. McGuinness
; prior Convictions posts on the decision
And thus did
this week return to a Texas courtroom.
At this Houston hearing, Medellín’s attorneys—
, clinical associate professor of law and clinical director, Center for International Human Rights, Northwestern University School of Law,
of New York’s Debevoise & Plimpton—sought to delay execution. “This is a case whose effects go far beyond this courtroom,” Babcock said. Donovan added, “This country is committed to the rule of law. We have a legal obligation. We should comply with it.”
“I did not intend to hold a hearing. I did intend to set an execution date.”
One suspects that this was not the “further appropriate action by the State of Texas” that Justice
John Paul Stevens
had in mind when, agreeing with Breyer’s view of the nonself-execution doctrine but disagreeing that its threshold had been met, he concurred in the court’s judgment in