- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

The Supreme Court yesterday said it will decide whether President Bush exceeded his authority when he ordered a Texas court in 2005 to comply with an international tribunal’s ruling challenging the death sentence of a Mexican national who raped and killed two girls.

In a case that pits the Bush administration’s claims of executive power against the role of international law in state court proceedings, the high court agreed to hear arguments this fall to determine the fate of Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican national sentenced in 1994 for the Houston killings.

State authorities want to proceed with the execution despite a ruling from the International Court of Justice in The Hague that said Medellin’s conviction, along with those of 50 other Mexico-born prisoners, violated the 1963 Vienna Convention because he was denied legal assistance guaranteed under the treaty.

The teenagers were raped, beaten and strangled by members of a street gang known as the “Black and Whites” in 1993.

Five gang members were charged with capital murder. Medellin, Peter Cantu, Derrick Sean O’Brien, Raul Villarreal and Efrain Perez all received the death penalty. O’Brien was executed last year. The sentences of Perez and Villarreal were commuted to life in prison when the Supreme Court barred executions for those younger than 17 at the time of their crimes.

None of the other gang members was included in the world court recommendation.

Cantu’s execution date has not been set. A sixth gang member, Medellin’s brother, Vernancio, was 14 at the time and tried as a juvenile. He is serving 40 years in prison.

The Bush administration had urged the Supreme Court to rule that the president had the authority to direct state courts to obey a decision by the world court concerning state criminal prosecutions, but the state of Texas disputed Mr. Bush’s right to intervene.

The state argued that Medellin had access to the courts in Texas to challenge his conviction and that was all the world court ruling had required.

Texas also challenged the Bush administration’s assertion of executive power in the case, saying Mr. Bush did not have the power to ensure that state courts complied with the international tribunal’s decision on the rights of foreign nationals arrested and prosecuted within the U.S. for crimes committed in this country.

The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations gives foreign nationals a right to meet with a diplomatic officer from his or her home country when arrested in another country. The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled that the U.S. government must take steps to assure that 51 Mexican nationals, including Medellin, who were prosecuted in this country had that right, despite state court rules that barred them from relying upon the convention in challenging their convictions.

Medellin said his consular access rights were violated, but was denied a chance to press that claim by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and by Texas’ highest criminal court. In November, the Texas state court found that Medellin had failed to raise the issue properly as his case unfolded in state court.

Medellin’s appeal was supported by the Mexican government.

In seeking to order the Texas court to comply with the world court ruling, the Bush administration said that although it did not agree with the decision, Texas’ refusal to comply would undermine the president’s authority to determine how the U.S. “will comply with its treaty obligations.”

In defending presidential powers, Solicitor General Paul D. Clement said the state court ruling “decided fundamental questions of federal law relating to the authority of the president to bring the United States into compliance with its treaty obligations.”

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