Thursday, March 27, 2008

Another international law quietly taken away

The Supreme Court this week handed down a landmark ruling this week that you probably didn't hear about. In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled against what amounts to international miranda rights and habeas corpus standards. I actually wrote a paper about the case, Medellin v Dretke last year.

The case involved a Mexican national who was tried and convicted of committing a gang rape and murder of two women in Texas. No doubt that it was a heinous crime, and the petitioner in this case, Jose Medellin, was given his miranda rights and admitted to committing the crime. He was sentanced to death for this rape/murder. So where is the problem?

According the Vienna Conventions, a treaty that the United States is a party to, a foreign national who is accused of a crime must be informed of his right to contact his state of origin's consular's office. Basically, a foreign national is allowed to contact an attourney from their embassy to explain the law to them. Mr. Medellin, claims that despite the fact that he confessed to the crime and was made aware of his miranda rights, the Texas police did not inform him of rights under the Vienna Convention despite the fact that the police were aware of the fact that he was a Mexican national.

There is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Medellin is guilty of the crime, and that he is probably trying to find a way out of his capital sentance. But by the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the state of Texas in this case, we may be loosing something important to Americans travelling abroad, as well as overlooking Constitutional law.

Believing that Texas needed to grant Mr. Medellin a new trial based on the Vienna Conventions, President Bush sent a memo requesting that they state courts give him a new trial. The Supreme Court stated in its opinion that Bush was acting in good faith and that what he did was to maintain possitive international relations, but that no federal or state court should be held to a international court ruling. The problem is, that Mr. Medellin's conviction not only offends the ICJ's ruling, but it violates US federal law. According to the Constitution, if a treaty is ratified by 2/3 of the Senate and the President, it is as good as law. President Bush was not only acting in good faith, he was (for once) actually following the law.

So the Supreme Court has ruled that despite the fact that the Constitution gives a detailed description about how treaties are ratified, and that explains in plain word that they are federal law once in place, that they are still non-binding. This ruling comes from the justices who claim to rule by "original intent" such as Justices Scalia and Alito. The application of the Vienna Conventions Treaty is written as plain as day.

Not only is this a sad day for Constitutional law, but it is also a sad day for international civil rights. Now that the Supreme Court has told the world that the US doesn't have to grant its citizens their Vienna rights, what is to stop a foreign state from denying these rights to an American?

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