Medellín v. Texas
|Medellín v. Texas|
|Argued October 10, 2007
Decided March 25, 2008
|Full case name||José Ernesto Medellín v. Texas|
|Citations||552 U.S. 491 (more)
128 S. Ct. 1346; 170 L. Ed. 2d 190; 2008 U.S. LEXIS 2912; 76 U.S.L.W. 4143; 2008-1 U.S. Tax Cas. (CCH) P50,242; 21 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 126
|Prior history||Medellín v. State, No. 71,997 (Tex. Crim. App., May 16, 1997); petition denied, S.D. Tex.; certificate of appealability denied, 371 F.3d 270 (5th Cir. 2004); cert. granted, 543 U.S. 1032 (2005); cert. dismissed, 544 U.S. 660 (2005) (per curiam) (Medellín I); Ex parte Medellín, 223 S.W. 3d 315 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006); cert. granted Ex parte Medellín, 550 U.S. 917 (2007)|
|Subsequent history||Stay and petition denied, 554 U.S. 759 (2008) (Medellín III)|
|Neither Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.), 2004 I. C. J. 12 (Judgment of Mar. 31) nor the President's Memorandum to the Attorney General (Feb. 28, 2005) constitutes enforceable federal law that pre-empts state limitations on the filing of habeas corpus petitions.|
|Majority||Roberts, joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito|
|Dissent||Breyer, joined by Souter, Ginsburg|
|Optional Protocol Concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes to the Vienna Convention, April 24, 1963, (1970) 21 U.S.T. 325, T.I.A.S. No. 6820; Article 36(1)(b) of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; Article 94 of the United Nations Charter; U.S. Const., Art. II, §3|
Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008), is a United States Supreme Court decision that held that even if an international treaty may constitute an international commitment, it is not binding domestic law unless Congress has enacted statutes implementing it or unless the treaty itself is "self-executing." Also, the Court held that decisions of the International Court of Justice are not binding domestic law and that, without authority from the United States Congress or the Constitution, the President of the United States lacks the power to enforce international treaties or decisions of the International Court of Justice.
The United States ratified the United Nations Charter on October 24, 1945. Article 92 of the Charter established the International Court of Justice. The ICJ Statute, which established the procedures and jurisdiction of the ICJ and was attached to the U.N. Charter, delineates two ways in which a nation may consent to ICJ jurisdiction: It may consent generally to jurisdiction on any question arising under a treaty or general international law, or it may consent specifically to jurisdiction over a particular category of cases or disputes pursuant to a separate treaty.
In 1969, the United States ratified the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of April 24, 1963, and the Optional Protocol Concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes to the Vienna Convention of April 24, 1963. Article 36 of the Vienna Convention requires that foreign nationals who are arrested or detained be given notice "without delay" of their right to have their embassy or consulate notified of that arrest. The Optional Protocol provides that disputes arising out of the interpretation or application of the Vienna Convention "shall lie within the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice".
The United States withdrew from general ICJ jurisdiction on October 7, 1985.
On June 24, 1993, José Ernesto Medellín (an 18-year-old Mexican citizen) and several other gang members participated in the murder of Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Peña, when they raped a 14-year-old and 16-year-old girl for an hour in Houston, Texas. Both girls were killed to prevent them from identifying their assailants. Medellín strangled one of the girls with her own shoelaces.
Hours after Medellin's arrest he admitted to his part in the crime and boasted of having "virgin blood" on his underpants.
Medellín was arrested five days later, and signed a confession after being given his Miranda warning. Texas authorities did not, however, advise him of his right to contact his consulate under the terms of the Vienna Convention. Medellín was convicted of rape and murder, and sentenced to death in 1997. He appealed, and raised the issue of his Vienna Convention rights as part of his appeal, but his conviction was upheld by the trial court and by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
In 2003, Medellín filed a petition for habeas corpus in United States district court. The district court denied relief, holding that Medellín's Vienna Convention claim should have been raised at trial (not on appeal) and he had failed to show prejudice against his case arising from the Vienna Convention violation.
Also in 2003, Mexico brought suit against the United States in the ICJ, claiming that the United States had failed to notify 51 defendants (all Mexican citizens having been accused in state courts of committing crimes in the U.S.) of their Vienna Convention right to notify their consulate. Medellín was one of the 51 Mexican nationals named in the suit. The following year, the ICJ ruled in Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U. S.), 2004 I.C.J. 12 (Judgment of March 31) (Avena) that the 51 Mexican nationals were entitled to review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences.
Before the Supreme Court could hear the case, however, President George W. Bush issued a Memorandum to the United States Attorney General. In the Memorandum, President Bush asserted authority under the Constitution and the various laws of the United States to order states to review the convictions and sentences of foreign nationals who had not been advised of their Vienna Convention rights. Because of the President's Memorandum, Medellín filed a second case in state court for habeas corpus. The U.S. Supreme Court then dismissed Medellín's first petition for certiorari in a per curiam decision, Medellín v. Dretke, 544 U.S. 660 (2005) (Medellín I).
As Medellín's second appeal was under consideration in Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon, 548 U.S. 331 (2006). Although the decision did not involve individuals named in the Avena judgment, the Court held the ICJ's ruling in Avena to be in error. Absent a clear and express statement to the contrary in either the Vienna Convention and the Optional Protocol, the Court held in Sanchez-Llamas, the procedural rules of each nation govern the implementation of the treaty. Since Sanchez-Llamas' rights had been observed under both state and federal law as well as various rulings of the Supreme Court, the High Court upheld his conviction. The ruling in Sanchez-Llamas did not control Medellín's case, however, since his claim was based on the rights accorded him as one of the individuals in the ICJ's judgment, rather than on the Vienna Convention. Since the ICJ had jurisdiction to render the decision in Avena at the time under the Optional Protocol, no one argued that Sanchez-Llamas alone foreclosed Medellín's claim.
The case was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States on October 9, 2007, with Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz appearing for the state and U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement appearing as a friend in support of Medellín.
Opinion of the Court
On March 24, 2008, the Court affirmed 6-3, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts writing for a five justice majority . The Court held that the Avena judgment is not enforceable as domestic law. A treaty is not binding domestic law, it said, unless Congress has enacted statutes implementing it or the treaty itself conveys an intention that it is "self-executing." None of the relevant treaties – the Optional Protocol, the U.N. Charter, or the ICJ Statute – were self-executing, and no implementing legislation had been enacted, the Court found.
The Court also rejected Medellín's claim that Article 94 of the U.N. Charter requires the United States to "undertake to comply" with the ICJ ruling. Chief Justice Roberts observed that Article 94(2) of the Charter provides for explicit enforcement for noncompliance by referral to the United Nations Security Council, and for appeals to be made only by the aggrieved state (not an individual such as Medellín). Even so, the United States clearly reserved the right to veto any Security Council resolutions. The majority also held that the ICJ statute contained in the U.N. Charter also forbade individuals from being parties to suits before the International Court. The ICJ statute is a pact between nations, Justice Roberts said, and only nations (not individuals) may seek its judgment.
Relying on Sanchez-Llamas, the Supreme Court then held that, absent a clear and express statement to the contrary in the relevant treaties, domestic procedural rules govern a treaty's implementation.
The Court also rejected Medellín's argument that the President's February 28, 2005 Memorandum was binding on state courts. The Court relied on Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U. S. 579 (1952), recognizing that "plainly compelling interests" were at stake in the Medellín case. Yet:
Such considerations, however, do not allow us to set aside first principles. The President's authority to act, as with the exercise of any governmental power, 'must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.'
The majority concluded that neither condition had been met. Neither the government nor the defendant had cited any statutory authority which authorized the President to act. Instead, the President claimed that the Optional Protocol and U.N. Charter implicitly gave him the authority to act. The Court disagreed: "The President has an array of political and diplomatic means available to enforce international obligations, but unilaterally converting a non-self-executing treaty into a self-executing one is not among them." The President also claimed that Congress had acquiesced in the exercise of presidential power by failing to act following the resolution of prior ICJ controversies. But, Roberts held, "A review of the Executive's actions in those prior cases, however, cannot support the claim that Congress acquiesced in this particular exercise of Presidential authority, for none of them remotely involved transforming an international obligation into domestic law and thereby displacing state law." The President also founded his action on "related" statutory responsibilities and an "established role" in litigating foreign policy concerns. But none of the examples cited in the government's brief supported that conclusion, the majority ruled, and none of the examples remotely indicated that the President may pre-empt state law.
The government had also claimed that the Memorandum was an exercise of the President's authority to resolve international claims under his executive authority. The Court recognized that this was a long-standing practice "never-before questioned." But relying on Dames & Moore v. Regan, 453 U.S. 654 (1981), the Court observed that "[p]ast practice does not, by itself, create power." Prior uses of executive authority to settle international disputes all occurred in narrow circumstances, and did not involve the complete setting aside of state law, as the defendant sought in the present case.
Finally, Medellín argued that the President's Memorandum was a valid exercise of presidential power based on the president's authority to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed", as granted in the Article II, §3 of the United States Constitution. The majority observed that the government refused to rely on Article II, §3, which undercut Medellín's claim. Justice Roberts then concluded that, since the ICJ's decision in Avena was not domestic law, the "take care" clause did not apply.
The judgment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was affirmed.
Justice Stevens' concurrence
Justice John Paul Stevens concurred with the majority, but in his concurring opinion he stated that even though he concurs with the result of majority he thinks "this case presents a closer question than the Court's opinion allows." He concludes that the Supreme Court cannot enforce the I.C.J. opinion in Avena. To support that conclusion he maintains that "terms of the United Nations Charter do not necessarily incorporate international judgments into domestic law."
Justice Breyer wrote in the dissent that in his view, the ICJ treaty was "self-executing", based on a reading of other treaties that had gone into effect without additional Congressional action; and therefore, he wrote, "I believe the treaty obligations, and hence the judgment [of the ICJ], resting as it does upon the consent of the United States to the ICJ's jurisdiction, bind the courts no less than would 'an act of the [federal] legislature.'"
One similar example Breyer cited was the 1796 case Ware v. Hylton, which, Breyer wrote, was illustrative of what "the Founders meant when they wrote [in the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution] that 'all Treaties ... shall be the supreme Law of the Land.'" In Ware v. Hylton, the Supreme Court had agreed with a British creditor that a provision of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, which had been ratified by the United States's Congress of the Confederation, overruled a Virginia state law regarding the repayment of debts to Britons; and, as the treaty was "addressed to the Judicial Branch", Congress had not had to enact a domestic law enforcing the treaty provision.
Medellín was executed at 9:57pm on August 5, 2008 after his last-minute appeals were rejected by the Supreme Court. Governor Rick Perry rejected calls from Mexico and Washington, D.C. to delay the execution, citing the torture, rape and strangulation of two teenage girls in Houston as just cause for the death penalty.
In his successful 2012 campaign for the United States Senate, and 2016 Presidential Candidate Republican Ted Cruz cited his work as Solicitor General of Texas on Medellin v. Texas as the accomplishment of which he was most proud. "It was by far the biggest case of my tenure," Cruz said. 
- Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008) (No. 06-984).
- United Nations Charter, 59 Stat. 1051, T.S. No. 993 (1945).
- Statute of the International Court of Justice, 59 Stat. 1055, T.S. No. 993 (1945).
- Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008) (No. 06-984), p. 4.
- Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 21 U.S.T. 77, T.I.A.S. No. 6820 (1970).
- Optional Protocol Concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes to the Vienna Convention, 21 U.S.T. 325, T.I.A.S. No. 6820 (1970).
- Article I, Optional Protocol Concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes to the Vienna Convention, cited in Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008) (No. 06-984), p. 3.
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- Medellín v. Dretke, 371 F. 3d 270 (2004).
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- Memorandum to the Attorney General, February 28, 2005, cited in Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008) (No. 06-984), p. 7.
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- Medellín v. Texas, 550 U. S. ___ (2007) (Medellín II).
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- Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008) (No. 06-984), p. 28, quoting Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U. S. 579, at 582.
- Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008) (No. 06-984), p. 30.
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- Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008) (No. 06-984), p. 36, quoting Dames & Moore v. Regan, 453 U.S. 654 (1981), at 686.
- Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008) (No. 06-984), p. 36.
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