March 26, 2008 in Nation/World

Justices limit powers of president, World Court

Robert Barnes Washington Post
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Medellin
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a broad ruling limiting presidential power and the reach of international treaties, saying neither President Bush nor the World Court has the authority to order a Texas court to reopen a death penalty case involving a foreign national.

The court held 6-3 that judgments of the international court are not binding on U.S. courts and Bush’s 2005 executive order that courts in Texas comply anyway does not change that.

The decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., was a rebuke to the government in a case that involved the powers of all three branches of government, the intricacies of treaties and the international debate over the death penalty.

It placed the president on the side of Ernesto Medellin, a brutal murderer, and the rulings of the International Court of Justice and against the authority of his home state’s courts.

Texas’s high court had rejected the World Court’s judgment that it “review and reconsider” Medellin’s conviction because he is a Mexican national and was not advised after his arrest that he could meet with a consular from his country, as the Vienna Convention requires.

Even though the administration disagreed with the World Court’s decision Bush nonetheless issued a memorandum ordering the Texas courts to rehear Medellin’s case.

But Roberts wrote that neither the Optional Protocol of the Vienna Convention nor the operative part of the United Nations charter creates binding law in the absence of implementing legislation from Congress.

And he wrote that the government had not made the case that Bush had the power to issue a directive that “reaches deep into the heart of the state’s police powers and compels state courts to reopen final criminal judgments and set aside neutrally applicable state laws.”

The case involved Medellin and 50 other Mexican nationals who have been convicted in U.S. courts.

Medellin, 33, has lived in the United States since he was 3; he speaks and writes English but is still a Mexican national. He was part of a gang that attacked Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, as they walked home from a friend’s house. They were raped and murdered, one strangled with her shoestring.

Medellin signed a waiver of his Miranda right to remain silent and confessed within hours of his arrest. But he was not told of his right to talk to the consulate of his country. Medellin did not raise that right during his trial but did in one of his death penalty appeals.


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