Medellin v. Texas: Supreme Court Holds ICJ Decisions Under the Consular Convention Not Binding Federal Law, Rejects Presidential Enforcement of ICJ Judgments Over State Proceedings
Margaret E. McGuinness
St. John's University - School of Law
American Society of International Law Insights, Vol. 12, No. 6, April 17, 2008
University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-14
On March 25, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Medellín v. Texas, a case in which a Mexican national on death row in Texas challenged his conviction on the basis that he was not afforded his right of consular notification under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that the 2004 decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Mexico v. United States (Avena), requiring the United States to provide further "review and reconsideration" of the convictions of petitioner Medellin and 51 other Mexican nationals on death row in the U.S., was not binding federal law and was therefore, absent an implementing statute, not enforceable by federal courts against Texas, and thus did not preempt the state procedural bar to Medellin's habeas claim. The Court further held that a 2005 memorandum issued by President Bush, stating his intention to enforce Avena, did not create binding law that could be enforced against Texas.
The decision will effectively end the federal habeas claims of petitioner Jose Ernesto Medellin and the other death row inmates affected by the Avena decision. Mexico may pursue political remedies at the international, federal and state level to address the problem of consular non-notification in death row cases. The Court noted that Congress is free to enact the legislation required to give domestic legal effect to decisions of the ICJ reached under the VCCR Optional Protocol, but there are no current efforts to do so. The decision leaves unresolved whether criminal defendants may bring a direct VCCR non-notification claim in cases where the claim has not been procedurally defaulted, and also leaves open the possibility of civil claims in non-notification cases brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983, which permits remedies for violations of federally protected rights.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 7
Keywords: Medellin, Vienna Convention, Consular Relations, ICJ, AvenaAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: June 18, 2009
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