Medellin v. Texas

This is the second time this matter has reached the Supreme Court. Medellin, a citizen of Mexico, was convicted of capital murder in Texas state court and sentenced to death. Medellin filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus arguing that the state violated his rights as a foreign national to consular access under the Vienna Convention. His petition was denied in the lower courts, despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice that Medellin and others were entitled to review of their convictions based on violations of the Vienna Convention. While Medellin's case was pending in the United States Supreme Court, the Bush administration filed a brief urging the Court to rule that Medellin had no private right to seek enforcement of the Convention, but also announced that the U.S. Government would comply with the World Court decision and directed state courts to reexamine the claims of Medellin and other Mexican nationals. Accordingly, Medellin filed a new state habeas petition and asked the Supreme Court to stay its consideration of the case pending state review. The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision dismissed Medellin’s petition and allow the state habeas case to go forward. Medellin v. Dretke.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Medellin's habeas petition because Medellin had not raised the issue at his trial, as required by Texas law. It held that the International Court of Justice decision was not binding federal law and, thus, did not preempt the state procedural rule requiring petitioners to raise issues at trial, and furthermore, that under the separation of powers doctrine, President Bush had no authority to order the state to reconsider Medellin's conviction.

Question Presented:

In the Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.), I.C.J. No. 128 (judgment of Mar. 31, 2004), the International Court of Justice determined that 51 named Mexican nationals, including petitioner, were entitled to receive review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences through the judicial process in the United States. On February 28, 2005, President George W. Bush determined that the United States would comply with its international obligation to give effect to the judgment by giving those 51 individuals review and reconsideration in the state courts. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the President’s determination exceeded his powers, and it refused to give effect to the Avena judgment or the President’s determination.

This case presents the following questions:

1. Did the President of the United States act within his constitutional and statutory foreign affairs authority when he determined that the states must comply with the United States’ treaty obligation to give effect to the Avena judgment in the cases of the 51 Mexican nationals named in the judgment?

2. Are state courts bound by the Constitution to honor the undisputed international obligation of the United States, under treaties duly ratified by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, to give effect to the Avena judgment in the cases that the judgment addressed?

Decision under Review

Edited Opinion

Supreme Court Opinion