[Posted by WLS]
Having taken some time now to read the oral argument from yesterday, I think I see the outline of the route the Court is going to take to get out of this case and to avoid the more signficant constitutional issues.
Key to this case, in my view, is the fact that the parties to the dispute are Texas and Medellin, and the US is only an amicus.
Rather than focus on the significance of the President’s directive that the ICJ’s decision should be given full effect, and how that might/might not bind the State Courts of Texas to waive their procedureal rules, the Court can instead focus on whether Medellin has any rights which he can personally assert against the State of Texas based on the ICJ’s decision and Texas’ refusal to waive its procedural rules.
The Court has previously held in Sanchez-Llamas, contrary to the judgment of the ICJ, that the Vienna Convention creates no judicially enforceable rights in any individual. The President’s decision to direct that the ICJ’s contrary view be given full effect by state courts in the 51 specific cases puts the Exec. branch on the other side of that issue. Its not that the Pres. believes the ICJ is right and the Supreme Court is wrong, as the Solicitor General pointed out, only that the US bound itself by the Optional Protocol to respect and enforce the decisions of the ICJ even where we didn’t like them.
Several members of the Court were curious yesterday about how it is that Medellin, a person who was not a party to the ICJ suit, can claim any substantive legal right arising out of the ICJ judgment, even setting aside the fact that such a substantive legal right was found not to exist by the Supreme Court previously in the Sanchez-Llamas case. And this is where I think the Court is going to find its off-ramp from the road to Medellin.
The Court can deny Medellin’s claim for relief on the basis that the ICJ judgment cannot be lawfully interpreted to confer substantive legal rights on an individual not a party to the litigation. Medellin’s claim that Texas has not provided him the hearing required by the ICJ decision may very well be true, but that is not a claim that Medellin can assert because the Vienna Convention gives him no enforceable rights — according to the Court in Sanchez-Llamas. At most it gives Mexico a diplomatic claim which it took to the ICJ.
Rather than Medellin bringing an action against Texas for not giving him the hearing, it would be up to the Bush Administration to sue Texas in order to force it under Article VI of the Constitution to comply with the Treaty obligations as a member state of the United States. The Supreme Court would have original jurisdiction over such a suit under Article III, and it would be for the Supreme Court to decide what Texas’ compliance obligation is with respect to the Vienna Convention and Optional Protocol. It would be in that suit that the Court could say the Executive Branch has/doesn’t have the authority to force a state to disregard its procedural rules and to conduct a hearing in accord with Treaty obligations.
That’s my prediction.
For today anyway.