Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Don't Mess With Texas

They don't call it the "Lone Star State" for nothing. Not only did Texas reject the arguments for a stay of execution (regarding Mexican National Jose Medellin) from the federal government, including President Bush's own appeal to the governor of Texas, but the state also put itself above international law (and the treaties of the U.S. Government), with the blessing of five members of the Supreme Court last night.

MEXICO CITY, Aug. 5 -- Texas executed on Tuesday night a Mexican citizen whose case inflamed passions in this country about capital punishment and tested international standards of justice.

José Ernesto Medellín was convicted of raping and killing two teenage girls in 1993 as part of a gang initiation rite. He died after a lethal injection at the state prison in Huntsville shortly before 11 p.m. Eastern time, authorities in Texas said.

The execution was delayed several hours by a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected a stay on a 5 to 4 vote.

In an unsigned "per curiam" opinion, the court majority noted that neither Congress nor the Texas legislature had taken any action in the case since the Supreme Court decided four months ago in Medellín v. Texas not to intervene.

All four of the court's more liberal justices filed dissents from the decision.

You might have to read the decision from this past spring Medellin v. Texas (2008) to understand the background of this case better, but to summarize, the majority in the decision rejected the arguments of the Bush administration to stop the execution of Medellin, a Mexican National, citing the 1963 Vienna Conventions, which the U.S. signed, giving the ICJ (or World Court) jurisdiction over the treatment of foreign nationals held abroad.

In 2004, the ICJ ruled that Medellin should not be executed (for denial of consular access), but the majority on the Supreme Court, while recognizing our commitment to international law, said our treaty obligations did not apply to domestic law (or state law) without congressional or state legislative action making it so.

The lack of congressional action since the first Medellin ruling was brought up in the per curiam, but what is odd is that the Congress did, in fact, take action regarding this matter in the past two months. Legislation, which was blithely dismissed by the majority (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas & Alito) as “the bare introduction of a bill," was drafted and referred to committee weeks ago, and it called for making Texas and every other state adherents to the international legal obligations of the U.S.

The International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, had ruled in 2004 that Medellín and four other Mexican nationals on U.S. death rows deserved to have their cases reexamined because they were not given the opportunity to seek legal help from Mexican consulates, a right granted under the 1963 Vienna Convention. Anti-death-penalty lawyers also have hoped that the rulings would help the cases of 46 other Mexican nationals on U.S. death rows who have asserted that they did not receive access to consular services.

But Texas courts refused President Bush's subsequent request to review Medellín's case. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court backed the state, ruling in a 6 to 3 decision that it was not bound by the international court's ruling.

Texas continued to assert that it was not bound by international law, nor the wishes of the Congress, the Executive Branch, or the President of the United States. Last night's decision cleared the way for Medellin's execution, which was carried out around 11pm.

From Justice Breyer's dissent in the evening:
To permit this execution to proceed forthwith places the United States irremediably in violation of international law and breaks our treaty promises. The President of the United States has emphasized the importance of carrying out our treaty-based obligations in this case.

A sufficient number of Justices having voted to secure those views (four), it is particularly disappointing that no Member of the majority has proved willing to provide a courtesy vote for a stay so that we can consider the Solicitor General’s view once received. As it is, the request will be mooted by petitioner’s execution, which execution, as I have said, will place this Nation in violation of international law.
The ramifications of Texas' bullheaded actions could be huge. While executing foreign nationals is not new in the U.S., Texas' behavior not only jeopardizes U.S. relations with Mexico (which routinely aids the U.S. by deporting hundreds of wanted persons every year in the "War on Drugs"), but it seriously calls into question the treatment of thousands of American nationals who are arrested and incarcerated abroad. Or to put it another way, if a U.S. citizen were arrested, denied consular access, tried, convicted and executed in a foreign country, would there be a hue and cry here in the U.S.?

Ironically, a slogan used domestically in Texas advertising goes: "Texas, it's like a whole other country."

You got that right.

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