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(Apr 02, 2008) On March 25, the Supreme Court ruled that a decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) did not override state procedural requirements governing post-conviction proceedings for convicted criminals.

Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican national, was arrested in Texas for his participation in the rape and murder of two girls there. After his arrest, the local authorities did not inform him of his right under the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations to notify the Mexican consulate of his detention. Medellin was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. After his conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal, Medellin filed a series of petitions for habeas corpus relief, arguing his rights under the Vienna Convention were violated. While one such proceeding was pending, the ICJ issued a decision in the Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals, (Aveda), finding that the United States had violated the Vienna Convention with respect to 51 named Mexican nationals, including Medellin, and that they were entitled to review and reconsideration of their U.S. state-court convictions and sentences, notwithstanding their failure to comply with state procedural requirements governing post-conviction relief. President George W. Bush then issued a memorandum stating that the U.S. would discharge its international obligations by having state courts give effect to the decision in cases filed by the Mexican nationals affected by the ICJ opinion. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the memorandum as a basis for overriding state procedural requirements governing habeas proceedings. The Supreme Court decided to review Medellin's case.

The Supreme Court ruled that neither the ICJ's decision in Avena, nor the President's memorandum, created directly enforceable federal law that pre-empts state procedural requirements governing habeas petitions. The Court first stated that none of the relevant treaty sources relating to the U.S.'s participation in the ICJ are self-executing, and thus they do not create binding domestic law in the U.S. on their own. It then found that the ICJ's decision in Avena did not create binding domestic law. Lastly, the Court rejected Medellin's argument that the President's memorandum requires state courts to provide review and reconsideration of the claims of the Mexican nationals named in Avena. The Court ruled that the President lacks authority to create domestic law preempting contrary state law under these circumstances, because the responsibility for transforming an international obligation arising from a non-self-executing treaty into domestic law falls to Congress, not the Executive. (Medellin v. Texas, No. 06-984 (March 25, 2008) available at

Author: Luis Acosta More by this author
Topic: International affairs More on this topic
Jurisdiction: United States More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 04/02/2008