Supreme Court Smacks Bush, Mexicans, World Court

by Ryan on March 25, 2008

in Judicial Watch,Politics

The Supreme Court voted 6-3 today to strike down President Bush’s adherence to a 1963 International Treaty where aliens caught committing a crime must be aware that they are entitled to legal counsel/advice when tried in American courts.  In today’s case, Medellin v. Texas (2008), the defendant argued that he was not made aware of this detail after his arrest (even though he submitted a hand-written confession after killing two girls in 1993).  After Mexico sued the USA over the issue in 2003, the International Court of Justice in 2004 said that the Mexicans (fifty in all around the US) must be given a new trial if such counsel could affect their cases. 

Today the Mexicans lost.

Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, Stevens, and Kennedy were in the majority who believed that:

The president may not “establish binding rules of decision that pre-empt contrary state law.” Neither does the treaty, by itself, require individual states to take action.

Breyer, Ruth Biddy, and Souter dissented citing the primacy of international treaties over American law:

“The nation may well break its word even though the president seeks to live up to that word,” wrote Breyer.

One of the points that Justice Stevens brings up is that Texas could, at any time, give Medellin a new trial.  Yet he ruled with the majority because he believes that Texas may not be compelled to give him a new trial; Texas law taking precedent over the ICJ order which was being enforced by the chief executive in violation of state sovereignty

I agree with this decision and appreciate how the court was defending federalism, states’ rights, and preventing a precedent whereby the World Court could on future occasions dictate what American courts and states can or cannot do.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

rightonoz March 25, 2008 at 9:22 pm

Seems stupid that the Congress has not enacted laws to ensure that the US complies with the international treaties it has signed.

On this basis any treaty the US signs is not worth the paper it is written on. YES, THE US IS A SIGNATORY TO THE TREATY THAT CONFERS THESE RIGHTS. It has nothing to do with this precious US problem of being scared of international courts etc dictating to the US. If you have no intention of honouring treaties, don’t sign them – Tell the world you will not give basic rights to foreign nationals then stop complaining when every country in the world applies the same reasoning to US nationals caught breaking their laws.

On that basis, Stallone would be 5-10 years in an Australian jail for importing steroids on his private jet, The US sailor who raped an Australian girl would be in rotting jail for the next 25 years, instead of being handed back to your navy as DEMANDED by the US. There have been a number of such instances in recent years. Sorry, but the US has a history of demanding special treatment of it’s nationals while telling the rest of the world to get screwed!

Bit like the case of the UK hackers the US is demanding be sent to the US for trial and unreasonably harsh punishment (one a case of a guy entering the Pentagon site and posting a warning telling the US to secure the site. Now the US wants him in jail for 15-20 years for pointing out the stupidity of the lax security on the site. No wonder the Chinese are having a field day with US military secrets – shoot the messenger!), when the US refuses to ratify the treaty that makes such extradition possible. Seems they want the UK to adhere to the treaty without exposing US citizens to similar penalty.

I notice the Justices did make mention that Congress could pass laws giving effect to the treaty obligations, which it should do immediately – honour your treaties!


Mike March 26, 2008 at 4:05 pm

Hey Oz.

I haven’t read the opinion yet but it seems like an interesting one. Federal law, including treaties, are supreme to state laws in areas where both have the power to legislate under the Constitution. On the other hand, the federal government is powerless to act if the subject matter has been reserved to the states. I don’t know where I stand on this yet because I haven’t read the decision, but I do know that Oz omitted something quite important.

Chief Justice Roberts: “Neither does the treaty, by itself, require individual states to take action.”

I’m all for honoring treaties, but before world government (not going to happen) types whine about the US honoring treaties, I think they should do a better job of DRAFTING those treaties. Or at least read them first.


Mike March 26, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Interesting point on the UK case though. What your missing on that one though is that the U.S. is not claiming that the UK is “required” to extradite the hacker so he can receive reasonably appropriate punishment. We’re simply asking them to do so. It has nothing to do with international law, which doesn’t exist. It has everything to do with comity, which is usually appropriate though not always so.


rightonoz March 26, 2008 at 5:53 pm

The UK case is one of the US “requesting” that he be extradited pursuant to a treaty signed between the two countries that the US refuses to ratify.

The Lords have dismissed his appeal on the basis that the UK is “required” to honour treaty obligations that it’s parliament ratified on the understanding the US would do likewise.

The problem most have with the UK case is that the US have already indicated the draconian (and it is out of all proportion to the crime) sentence awaiting him for what was a “look how pathetic your security is (and how smart I am)”. A case of the Pentagon determined to deter other hackers from pointing out glaring inadequacies in their network security. If these guys can crack it, you can guarantee the Russians and Chinese are having a field day, and not leaving a little note behind to point out the fact. Now personally I think that most hackers are a bunch of low-lives, but let’s at least try to focus on the ones that are out to steal/cause damage etc, make the punishment fit the crime.

I’m not after World government (that would immediately be controlled by the commo/left/dictatorial groupings and we’d all be in the Sh.t!) what I am strongly in favour of is countries honouring their treaty obligations.

The obvious problem here is US presidents signing cheques they don’ have the authority to back up with action.

My point is all about the reasonable expectation that treaties between countries are a legally binding contract unless repudiated. Governments should not sign treaties they either have no intention of honouring or do not have the authority to bind their federal/state governments to.

Per my original comment, Congress does have the ability to enact laws requiring states to comply in this particular instance, according to at least one justice.


Mike March 26, 2008 at 9:53 pm

We’re not actually that far apart on this. I too think treaties should be followed (though we shouldn’t enter as many as some would like).

I haven’t read the opinion yet but Congress is not always empowered to require states to take a certain action. If the matter in question is a state penalty for a violation of state law, then the federal government does not have the authority to dictate punishment. If this is the case here (and I don’t know it is) then the Congress cannot bind those states through a treaty to accomplish what they themselves don’t have the authority to do.

As for Justice Stevens, he never applies the Constitution so that’s unpersuasive.


alan April 2, 2008 at 2:54 pm

I’m glad the Supreme Cour has upheld the authority of the United States. We should never let foreign courts dictate our law system. Check out this commentary:


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