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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Medellin v. Texas: States' Rights Trump International Law

In the Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.), I.C.J. No. 128 Judgment of Mar. 31, 2004), the International Court of Justice determined that 51 named Mexican nationals, including petitioner, were entitled to receive review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences through the judicial process in the United States without regard for procedural defaults. Petitioner filed a state habeas case challenging his capital conviction, claiming he was not informed of his Vienna Convention right to notify the Mexican consulate. Medellin had not timely raised and preserved the claim in state court so it was procedurally defaulted. While the applicability of Avena to Texas courts was pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, President George W. Bush determined that the United States would comply with its international obligation to give effect to the judgment by giving those 51 individuals review and reconsideration in the state courts. As a result, the Supreme Court case was deemed moot. Medellin filed another habeas petition in state court, relying on both Avena and the President’s decree. In response, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the President’s determination exceeded his powers, and it refused to give effect to the Avena judgment or the President’s determination. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the habeas petition, holding that neither an International Court of Justice case, nor a memorandum issued by the President of the United States constitutes directly enforceable federal law that preempts state limitations on the filing of successive habeas petitions.