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Medellin Decided

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The Supreme Court decided the case of Medellin v. Texas, 5-1-3. The case involves a decision of the International Court of Justice that the United States must reconsider the claims of about 50 Mexican nationals that their rights under the Vienna Convention were violated by the failure of police to inform them upon arrest that they could have the Mexican Consulate notified. In many of the cases, including Medellin, state courts had held that the claim was defaulted by failure to raise it in time. The ICJ held, in essence, that the default rule could not be applied at least to defaults occurring before the consulate had notice of the case. Two years ago, in Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and held that the treaty does not trump state procedural default rules. However, that case did not involve any of the persons whose cases were actually before the ICJ.

Two arguments were made to distinguish the Medellin case from the earlier case. The first one was that the treaty obligations of the United States to submit Vienna Convention disputes to the ICJ and to comply with the ICJ decisions have direct legal force in domestic courts. The second was that a memorandum issued by the President to the effect that state courts would implement the ICJ decision was a proper exercise of the President's authority in foreign affairs.

Today's decision by Chief Justice Roberts rejected both arguments. The treaties are not self-executing, based on an analysis of their language. Although the United States has an obligation under international law, that obligation only becomes a domestic law binding on domestic courts if Congress enacts legislation to implement it. Second, although the President has broad powers in foreign affairs, he cannot transform a non-self-executing treaty into a self-executing one.

On page 25 of the slip opinion, the Court notes, "Congress is up to the task of implementing non-self-executing treaties, even those involving complex commercial disputes." We can expect the next stage of this drama to be the introduction of bills to implement the ICJ decision.

5 Comments

If Congress passed a bill and the president signed it (a big if), that wouldn't likely help Medellin. His case is over--wouldn't Plaut bar any legislative reopening thereof?

"We can expect the next stage of this drama to be the introduction of bills to implement the ICJ decision"

I am sure Congressmen will be falling over themselves to sponsor the 'Foreign Murderers Bill of Rights'. In an election year no less!

I can think of a few who represent districts where sponsoring such a bill would be a plus. Like, for instance, the Speaker.

I am sure there are a few who would sponsor it, but I don't see it going anywhere. Now if the Speaker wants to spend political capital forcing her caucus to support such a bill she is welcome to.

(This is talking about a Bill to give effect to Avena - I am sure a Bill that going forwards instructed the States on how to implement the Vienna Convention, provided money for training for police officers, and spelled out what a court could determine was a non-harmless error would pass).

I think California has already passed legislation dealing with Vienna Convention rights.

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