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Death in Texas

5 August 2008

Second update:  The Supremes did not grant the say, and Medellin was executed at 21:57 Houston Time (about an hour after I wrote the “update” below).

UPDATE: as of an hour ago (I’m writing this at 19:48 Mazaltan time) the U.S. Supreme Court was a stay of execution until the legal arguments over treaty obligations can be considered. This is an unusual situation, with Geroge W. Bush, the U.S. State Department, most foreign diplomats and experts on international law all requesting a review. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City is warning that they expect major (and possibly violent) protests if the execution is carried out.

What’s always bothered me about any discussion of the death penalty in Texas is that it isn’t so much defended against he charges that it is seen as barbaric by the rest of the planet as that those being executed are criminals.  Fair enough.  Nobody is saying Jose Medellin didn’t commit some horrific crimes, or even so much that his continued existence is in any way desirable.  However, the rule of law — and international treaty (equal under the law to the United States Constitution) should trump local custom.

And, Texas’ refusal to providing consular assistance has had a devastating effect on its economy.  In August, 2002, President Vicente Fox was scheduled to meet with President George W. Bush and Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss bilateral agreements, including water rights along the Rio Grande and immigration agreements.  Fox was expected to ease up on Mexican water demands in return for some cosmetic changes in U.S. immigration policy.  However, because Texas would not halt Javier Suarez Medina’s execution, Fox went on national television even before Suarez’ body was cold, and announced he was canceling the trip and the negotiations.  I don’t know if there is any way of calculating the economic loss to Texas farmers due to the delay in implementing regulatory changes in the way water is allocated, nor the drain on taxpayers because immigration reforms were scotched in 2002.  Relations between the Fox Administration and the United States went in the dumper after that.

Bush apparently learned his lesson, but Perry did not.  Although the present administration in Mexico is also conservative, and from a party somewhat analogous to Bush and Perry’s Republican Party, the social conservatives in PAN are Roman Catholics.  They tend to accept Church teachings on the death penalty (Mexican military courts can still give death sentences, but Fox commuted all death-row inmates in military prisons and supported changing the code).  From the other two-thirds of the electorate, there is also opposition to the death penalty.  All political factions will perceive this as “gringo arrogance”.  It will be very difficult for those who support legislation or changing regulations that favor the U.S. in some way (for example, the various PEMEX reform proposals) to sell their ideas as modern and progressive.  This will also be a convenient excuse for Mexican authorities to NOT heed other U.S. proposals and propositions for the next few months, if not years.

Reagan, Bush (I) and Clinton Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow on tonight’s execution in Huntsville, Texas, sees a broader diplomatic problem:

… we now find ourselves on the brink of an irrevocable violation of the most important treaty governing consular assistance for our citizens detained in other countries. A failure to comply with this most basic of treaty commitments would significantly impair the ability of our diplomats and leaders to protect the interests — individual and collective — of Americans abroad. Were the tables turned — American citizens arrested abroad and denied consular access, with an ICJ judgment requiring review of those cases for prejudice, and another nation refusing to comply — our leaders would rightly demand that compliance be forthcoming.

La Opinion (Los Angeles) summarizes the issue nicely:

The execution in Texas of Mexican national José Medellín scheduled for today violates international treaties.

At issue here is not whether Medellín is guilty of a horrific murder, or even whether Texas has the right to apply capital punishment. We have opposed the death penalty for many different reasons, but that’s the law in Texas.

The core issue is the violation of a treaty that has been in effect for decades, under which, when a foreigner is arrested, the authorities are obligated to notify the consul of that person’s country. The idea behind this process is to prevent local authorities from committing procedural abuses against a detainee.

Texas failed to comply in Medellín’s case and then refused to abide by an International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision —accepted by the Bush Administration— to review the case. Later, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Texas, stating that there was no norm obligating the states to abide by an ICJ decision.

The Supreme Court decision was surprising, because, first of all, ratification of any and all international treaties by the Senate guarantees that they will be upheld by the states. Secondly, this decision calls into question the validity of other agreements whose implementation would require a level of specificity as demanded in this case.

Federalism is important, but international treaties ratified cannot be ignored. Other states of the Union have respected the ICJ’s decision. Texas should do likewise and cease acting as if it were independent. Its refusal to review the case is an aberration and affects the credibility of the United States as a country.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mr. Rushing permalink
    6 August 2008 11:21 am

    I oppose the mandatory death penalty, but in favor of a voluntary one.

    I do not want this idiot to be deported back to Mexico. Give him the other death penalty…

    LIFE IN PRISON! We will wait years for him to die, forgoten and alone. Tortured by his dreams of how this could have all been avoided.

    Why is it that Mexicans get so pissed off when the US treats them like second class citizens before they commit a crime and then pissed off when we treat them like our own citizens when they do? They should be happy that we are treating this murdering scoundrel like one of our own.

    I want all illegal immigrants to be treated like US citizens, if you commit a crime in the US, you get treated like an American criminal. No more deporting criminal illegals back to Mexico, they are now Americans. Lock them up for life or give them the option of a voluntary death penalty to ease the pain of prison if they have murdered someone. Treat illegals and guest workers like the Americans that they supposedly want to be.

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