Yesterday’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court in the case Medellin v. Texas focused on a strange mix of issues (international law, presidential power, congressional treaties, states rights and the death penalty) and strange mix of bedfellows (George Bush, International law and a Texas Death Row inmate v. the State of Texas and states rights advocates). It also turned into a free-for-all (well, as “free-for-all” as the justices can get) with extended time for arguments and several justices whipping out copies of the Constitution. Here are the basics of the case:
“Jose Medellín, 33, has lived in the United States since he was 3; he speaks and writes English but is still a Mexican national. He was part of a gang that attacked Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Peña, 16, as the girls walked home from a friend’s house. The girls were raped and murdered, one of them strangled with her own shoestring.”Medellín signed a waiver of his Miranda right to remain silent and confessed within hours of his arrest. But he was not told of his right to talk to the consulate of his country, guaranteed to those arrested outside their home countries, under the Vienna Convention. Medellín did not raise that right during his trial but did in one of his death penalty appeals.
“Mexico, which has no death penalty, went to the International Court of Justice, and it ruled that the death sentences of 51 Mexican nationals in nine states, including Medellín’s, receive “review and reconsideration.”
“The Bush administration first argued against Mexico, then President Bush in 2005 issued a memorandum to the attorney general saying that the United States will “discharge its international obligations . . . by having state courts give effect to the decision of the World Court.”
Texas being Texas, however, told homeboy to bugger off. They weren’t gonna follow no damn ferner court, and a buncha damn ferners weren’t gonna tell them how to do justice in Texas, by gawd. Said Justice Breyer at one point, reading from a copy of the Constitution saying state judges must adhere to international treaties: “I guess it means, including Texas.” LOL.
So Medellin filed suit against the state of Texas, arguing that it was required to adhere to the Vienna Convention and international law, and was joined by the Bush administration. I mean, that’s got to be a first…George Bush siding with a death row inmate on a legal appeal.
Various theories abound as to why Bush did an about face. His first reaction to the case when the ICJ rendered its judgment in 2004 was to “denounce the ruling and withdraw the United States from the court’s jurisdiction over Vienna Convention disputes.”
But the following year, he told the US Attorneys to enforce it. Why? Because unilaterally withdrawing from the treaty would have endangered our own citizens abroad, and with the world out after our spies, spooks, tourists and military, now might not be a good time to tell the world and its laws to go to hell.
The state of Texas countered Bush overstepped his presidential authority, and that the Supremacy clause of the Constitution did not apply since the World Court was basically usurping both state and federal law in their ruling (and Bush would be enforcing an non-binding judgment).
What was interesting is how the argument played out. The more conservative justices kept with their states rights mantra by siding with Texas, but seemed out of whack with their sudden restriction on presidential authority, arguing Bush couldn’t just enforce “some international court’s” rulings and bypass SCOTUS in the process. There was a “hey, what about us?” attitude amongst several of the justices in the argument.
The more liberal justices were in keeping with the federalism of the case, but seemed out of whack with their sudden deference to presidential authority, in this case supporting Bush and his claim that he can force the states to do what he says if he has federal and international law behind him.
And then you have Bush, arguing against states rights (his own state, to boot) and suddenly being an adherent to the ICJ and ICC, which he has long maintained has no standing in the eyes of the United States.
The decision will probably splinter along the usual 5-4, but how often do you see the five coming down against the Bushies and the four supporting him?
Cross posted from AoF