Supreme Court Ruling Rebukes the President

John F. McManus
Friday, March 28, 2008

President Bush wanted Texas to adhere to a World Court ruling and the Texas courts resisted. After years of wrangling, the Supreme Court has just agreed with Texas.

Follow this link to the original source: "Justices Rebuff Bush and World Court"

Mexican national Jose Medellin brutally raped and murdered two Houston teenagers in 1993. For his crime, he was tried, convicted and awarded the death penalty by a Texas court. After an appeal on his behalf, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that Medellin had received fair treatment and his conviction was upheld.

Because the murderer was not advised of his right to receive legal assistance from Mexico's consul, Mexico sued the United States in the World Court. In 2004, the United Nations body located in The Hague told the United States that it was obliged to reopen the case. Medellin's lawyers went back to court. The fate of the convicted murderer and that of 50 other Mexican nationals facing the death penalty in four separate states for similar crimes, would again come before the judges.

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In 2005, President Bush announced his support for the World Court's ruling and told Texas to comply with it. Texas resisted and in November 2006, its Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed the case and rejected the latest appeal. Speaking for that court, Judge Michael Kaesler stated that Mr. Bush "had exceeded his constitutional authority by intruding into the independent powers" of his state's judicial body. At that point, lawyers for Medellin pressed on to the Supreme Court claiming that a Vienna Convention dealing with prisoner rights (from which the U.S. had already removed itself) and an article in the United Nations Charter created binding law for the United States. It was now the United Nations versus the United States!

On March 25th, in a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court rejected the latest appeal and effectively told the President that his powers are not unlimited. Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that Article 94 of the UN Charter provides only that "each member of the United Nations undertakes to comply" with World Court decisions. He maintained that "undertakes to comply" means that further action is needed, and it had never been undertaken by the U.S. Congress. In other words, a President by himself cannot make law based on some treaty. (Entry by the United States into the UN in 1945 has always been considered to have been accomplished by treaty, a very questionable stand that ought to be examined more carefully.)

Justice Roberts was joined in his decision by Justices Thomas, Scalia, Alito, Stevens and Kennedy. Dissenters included Justices Breyer, Ginsberg and Souter. Justice Breyer pointed to the Constitution's Article VI and claimed that treaties "shall be the supreme law of the land," an extremely dangerous position that could lead to undoing the entire Constitution. His attitude was roundly rejected by the men who wrote and commented on the Constitution from its earliest days. Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson each claimed that treaty-making power is limited and can never supersede the Constitution.

Referring to this significant ruling, White House Press Secretary Dana Perrino insisted that it should not be seen as a loss of presidential authority. But that's precisely what it is. The president who consistently seeks more power — even imperial authority via signing statements, executive orders, etc. — has been handed a significant setback. The decision also separates our nation somewhat from jurisdiction by the United Nations. And these are most welcome developments for America.

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