March 25, 2008 / 4:02 PM / 10 years ago

Court rules against Bush, Mexican on death row

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush exceeded his authority when he directed Texas to comply with an international court’s ruling and reopen dual-murder case against a Mexican on death row, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

By a 6-3 vote in a case that pitted Bush against his home state, the high court said Bush should not have ordered Texas to comply with the World Court ruling mandating the review of the cases of Jose Medellin and 50 other Mexicans in U.S. prisons awaiting execution.

Medellin was denied the right to meet with a consular official from Mexico after his arrest in Texas for the June 1993 rape and murder of two teen-aged girls.

The Hague court in 2004 ordered the United States to review his case, and those of the other Mexican death row inmates, on the grounds that his Vienna Convention right to talk to consular officers after his arrest had been violated.

Bush in 2005 decided to comply with the World Court’s ruling and issued a memorandum to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales directing state courts to review the cases to determine whether the violation of their rights caused the defendants any harm at trial or sentencing.

Chief Justice John Roberts said in the majority opinion that Bush cannot require the states to provide review and reconsideration of the claims of the 51 Mexican nationals, in disregard of state court rules and law.

Medellin’s attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court and said a Texas court ruling that Bush had overstepped his powers and put the United States in violation of its undisputed treaty obligations.

The Bush administration supported Medellin and said the president must have the authority to ensure that the United States adheres to such treaty obligations.

The Mexican government also has weighed in on behalf of Medellin, who has been on death row since 1994.

Texas officials acknowledged Medellin was never told he could talk to Mexican officials. But they argued that claim cannot be made now because he never properly raised it previously. Even if his treaty rights had been violated, it would not have made any difference in the outcome, they said.

Roberts rejected the administration’s argument that Bush has the authority to establish binding rules affecting court decisions that preempt contrary state law.

He said the memo — a directive issued to state courts that would compel the reopening of final criminal judgments and set aside state laws — is not supported by Bush’s foreign affairs authority to resolve claims disputes.

Roberts, who was appointed by Bush, was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, Bush’s other appointee on the court. Justice John Paul Stevens concurred in the judgment.

Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.

Editing by Patricia Zengerle

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