Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Medellín executed; debate continues

The case of José Ernesto Medellín ended with his execution by lethal injection at 9:57 last night at the Texas prison in Huntsville.
In March, as detailed in prior IntLawGrrls posts, the U.S. Supreme Court in Medellín v. Texas rejected the Mexico-born defendant's challenge to his conviction. Medellín had contested the use of a confession obtained without telling him of his Vienna Convention on Consular Relations right to consular access. But the Court held 6-3 held that the Convention regime, which Congress never implemented into internal U.S. law, did not oblige Texas to reconsider Medellín's case, notwithstanding an International Court of Justice order to do so.
Last night's execution went forward after the United States' highest court declined Medellín's application for a stay. This vote was 5-4. Justice John Paul Stevens, who had cast the 6th vote for Texas in March, would have granted a stay in order to seek the views of the U.S. Executive respecting what, in Stevens' view, was the failure of Texas to discharge its

duty as a matter of international law -- to remedy the potentially significant breach of the United States' treaty obligations ....

Also dissenting from denial of a stay were Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen G. Breyer. Breyer favored delay in order to permit Congress to respond to the Medellín majority's exposition of what it maintained makes a treaty provision self-executing or non-self-executing. Making particular note of the mid-July introduction into Congress of a bill entitled the Avena Case Implementation Act of 2008, Breyer argued that

until the Court's decision in Medellín a few months ago, a member of Congress might reasonably have believed there was no need for legislation because the relevant treaty provisions were self-executing. It is not realistic to believe Congress could act to provide the necessary legislative approval in only a few weeks' time.

Questions of how government ought to respond to Medellín's treatment of international treaties' status in internal U.S. law endure despite the conclusion of this particular case. Taking up those questions is a newly appointed Joint Task Force on Treaties in US Law, newly formed by the American Society of International Law and the American Bar Association's Section of International Law. Members include private- and public-sector attorneys, as well as a number of IntLawGrrls' academic colleagues: yours truly, Diane Marie Amann, California-Davis; Donald K. Anton, Michigan; Curtis A. Bradley, Duke; Lori Fisler Damrosch, Columbia; Duncan Hollis, Temple; Julian Ku, Hofstra; Sally Rider, Arizona; Edward T. Swaine, George Washington; and Carlos Manuel Vázquez, Georgetown.

(credit for 2007 Pat Sullivan/AP photo of Texas death chamber)

1 comment:

Stephanie Farrior said...

Regarding possible Congressional action: On 17 July, ASIL President (and IntLawGrrl) Lucy Reed and all living past presidents of the ASIL (José Alvarez, Charles N. Brower, James H. Carter, Thomas Franck, Louis Henkin, Arthur W. Rovine, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Peter D. Trooboff, and Edith Brown Weiss) sent a letter to House and Senate leaders urging Congressional action "to ensure that the United States lives up to its binding international legal obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs and the United Nations Charter." The text of the letter is available here.

Keep track of the status the Avena Implementation Act of 2008 here.