Mexico again sues United States in ICJ; ICJ directs United States to block Medellin execution; U.S. Supreme Court again denies relief; Texas executes Medellin.

Author:Crook, John R.
Position:Contemporary Practice of the United States Relating to International Law

The legal struggle over the fate of convicted murderer Jose Ernesto Medellin continued in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the U.S. executive branch, Congress, Texas courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court during the summer of 2008. Efforts to defer Medellin's execution pending further review of his Vienna Convention claim were unavailing. He was executed by the State of Texas in early August. (1)

Medellin was one of about fifty Mexican nationals cited in Avena (Mexico v. United States) (2) before the ICJ as having been sentenced to death by U.S. courts without receiving timely notice of the right to notify Mexican consular officials pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In its 2004 judgment, the ICJ ordered that the United States "provide, by means of its own choosing, review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence, so as to allow full weight to be given to the violation" of consular notification. President George W. Bush sought to give effect to this judgment through a February 2005 memorandum calling for state courts to review past convictions "in accordance with general principles of comity." (3) In March 2008, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Medellin v. Texas that this directive did not have domestic legal force and that Texas was not obligated to honor it. (4)

In early July, following the Supreme Court's decision, Mexico brought a new ICJ case against the United States based on Article 60 of the ICJ Statute, which authorizes "requests for interpretation" of the Court's judgments. Mexico contended that there was a "fundamental dispute" regarding the 2004 Avena judgment, maintaining that the United States interpreted it as requiring "means," whereas Mexico interpreted it to require "results." Mexico noted that Texas had scheduled the execution of Medellin, the unsuccessful petitioner in Medellin v. Texas, for early August and that four other Mexicans soon could be scheduled for execution. It asked the ICJ to indicate provisional measures to stay these executions. (5)

At the ICJ's June hearing on Mexico's provisional measures request, the United States maintained that there was no dispute regarding the meaning of the Avena judgment within the scope of Article 60. In mid-July, a sharply divided ICJ indicated provisional measures, directing the United States to take "all measures necessary" to ensure that, pending the Court's final judgment, the five Mexican nationals not be executed unless they received review and reconsideration as required by Avena. (6) In finding jurisdiction, the Court emphasized the French text of Article 60...

To continue reading