NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 1, 2005

Medellin v. Dretke, a death penalty-related case that the Supreme Court will hear next month, has the potential to catapult the concept of international law to a new level of acceptability in American courts, says Wall Street Journal.

The case was brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) when Mexican officials learned about Jose Medellin, a Mexican citizen on death row in Texas. Mexico argued that under the Vienna Convention they should have been notified when Medellin was first arrested. The ICJ ruled in Mexico?s favor, ordering U.S. state courts to review the death sentences of Medellin and 50 other Mexican citizens on death row.

The implications for America's courtrooms are immense, says the Journal:

  • By letting the ICJ tell Texas how to run its courts, the United States would move in the direction of the European Union, which has a supranational legal system to which national courts must bow.
  • In the future, many suspect another ICJ ruling to follow, declaring the death penalty illegal and ordering Texas to get rid of capital punishment.

The United States does not dispute the facts of the case, says the Journal. Upholding the United States treaty commitment to the Vienna Convention is important and in the interest of Americans. If an American is arrested abroad, the United States wants to know about it. The United States has promised to do a better job of keeping its treaty commitment and has launched an education campaign on the Vienna Convention for state law-enforcement authorities.

Although the Untied States admits fault, the Journal raises concerns that American laws are sliding towards a new system where they are measured not just against the Constitution but against the laws of foreign countries. At the ICJ, the Bush Administration argued that Mexico's demand would be an unwarranted intrusion on U.S. sovereignty.

Source: Editorial, "Rule of (International) Law," Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2005.

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