The controversial trial of Jose Medellin, a Mexican national and death row inmate, has now been put to rest. After the U.S. Supreme Court denied his final appeal on Tuesday night, Medellin was executed by lethal injection in Texas.
Jose Medellin was convicted of rape and murder in 1993, and was sentenced to death. His lawyers appealed, however, arguing that Medellin was denied his right as a Mexican citizen to meet with consular officials. This right is guaranteed by international treaty in the Vienna Convention of 1963, to which the United States is a signatory, but Medellin was not informed about this entitlement until after his conviction. Medellin was only one of at least 50 foreign nationals whose right to contact with his consul has been denied after arrest.
At the International Court of Justice in 2004, Mexico sued the United States for violating the Vienna Convention by failing to notify Mexican authoritees that its citizens were being detained, and demanded that states where Mexican nationals had been sentenced review the cases. The ICJ ruled in Mexico’s favor, and President Bush moved to comply with the decision by issuing a memorandum calling for the states to fall in line.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, stands as a roadblock to observance of the treaty. In one case, Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon, the court declared that international treaty obligations did not have domestic authority as binding law. And in the Medellin decision (Medellin v. Texas), Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that President Bush did not have the authority to enforce a treaty without the permission of Congress. In short, the states are not obligated to enforce a treaty negotiated by the federal executive branch. Thus, despite presidential intervention, the Supreme Court held Medellin’s conviction in March this year, and dismissed his last ditch effort to appeal on Tuesday evening.
To be sure, Medellin’s story is only the tip of the iceberg. Despite the Supreme Court’s interpretation, both the ICJ and the international community at large have denounced the execution. Critics have also demanded treaty compliance, arguing that American nationals will now be less safe if arrested in foreign countries that also refuse to enforce the law.