International

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ABOUT MEDELLIN v. DRETKE

World Court

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ABOUT MEDELLIN v. DRETKE
[To be argued before the Supreme Court on March 28, 2005]

Who is Medellin?

Jose Ernesto Medellin is an inmate on Texasí death row. At the time of his arrest for murder, he was a Mexican citizen and hence protected under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR).

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT MEDELLIN V. DRETKE

Continued from DPIC's home page:

Why is Medellin v. Dretke before the Supreme Court?

Most Mexicans on death row in the U.S. were denied their rights under the VCCR, and the government of Mexico brought a suit before the ICJ as provided in the Optional Protocol.  That lawsuit, brought on behalf of Medellin and 53 other Mexican nationals who had been sentenced to death in the United States, is referred to as the Avena case.

U.S. Abandons Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations

The Bush administration has pulled out of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, an international agreement that has been in place for more than 30 years and that the United States initially supported to protect its citizens abroad. In recent years, the provision has been successfully invoked by foreign nations whose citizens were sentenced to death by U.S. states without receiving access to diplomats from their home countries, events which served as the basis for President Bush's decision to withdraw from the agreement.

The Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations requires signatories to let the United Nation's highest tribunal, the International Court of Justice at the Hague, make the final decision when their citizens say they have been illegally denied the right to seek consulate assistance when jailed abroad. The administration's withdrawal from the Optional Protocol comes just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to consider what effect U.S. courts should give to an International Court of Justice ruling in favor of 51 Mexican foreign nationals. The World Court found that the U.S. government had failed to comply with the requirements of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and it directed that U.S. courts give the death row inmates "meaningful review" of their convictions and sentences, without applying procedural default rules to prevent consideration of the defendants' claims. It is unclear what affect the administration's decision to abandon the Optional Protocol will have on this case.

Some analysts say President Bush's decision will weaken both protections for U.S. citizens abroad and the idea of reciprocal obligation that the protocol embodied. The United States was the first to invoke the Optional Protocol before the World Court to successfully sue Iran for the taking of 52 U.S. hostages in 1979.

President Bush Orders Courts to Give Foreign Nationals on Death Row Further Review

The White House has ordered state courts to consider the complaints of 51 Mexican foreign nationals on death row in the United States. This Executive Order is an abrupt international policy shift for the Bush administration and comes just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to consider  what effect U.S. courts should give to a ruling in favor of the 51 foreign nationals by the United Nations' highest tribunal, the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The World Court found that the U.S. government had failed to comply with the requirements of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and it directed that U.S. courts give the Mexican foreign national inmates "meaningful review" of their convictions and sentences, without applying procedural default rules to prevent consideration of the defendants' claims. In his memorandum to the attorney general, President Bush stated that he had determined "that the United States will discharge its international obligations under the decision of the International Court of Justice" and he ordered the state courts to grant review. It is unclear if the Administration's decision will affect the U.S. Supreme Court's consideration of the case. 

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