In a move that could spawn a fight over presidential powers, the Bush administration has ordered Texas and other states to conduct hearings for 51 Mexican nationals on death row who claim their rights were violated when local consulates were not notified of their arrests.
The directive came after years of criticism from foreign governments and an adverse decision last year by the International Court of Justice, which decreed that U.S. courts should provide “effective review” of each case to determine whether the lack of consular assistance could have affected the outcome.
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1969, provides that “consular officers shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention; to converse and correspond with him; and to arrange for his legal representation.” The Mexican government has complained loudly for years that these rights are often ignored by U.S. authorities.
Legal experts were uncertain precisely how the courts in eight states holding the 51 inmates would comply with the executive order, or whether all would even try. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately challenged the right of President Bush to tell Texas courts what to do.
“We respectfully believe the executive determination exceeds the constitutional bounds for federal authority,” Abbott said in a prepared statement.
Bush’s order comes six weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case of Jose Medellin, who was sentenced to death along with four others for the 1993 murders of Houston teenagers Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Peña. Medellin, who was born in Mexico but lived most of his life in Houston, has asked the high court to order a new hearing based the violation of his consular rights under the Vienna Convention.
“Medellin voluntarily confessed to the brutal gang rape and murder of two teenage girls,” Abbott said. “He was convicted after a fair trial, applying U.S. and Texas law. The state of Texas believes no international court supersedes the laws of Texas or the laws of the United States.”