Thursday, July 31, 2008

Washington Post: Buying Time in Texas

The Washington Post, in today's paper, helpfully editorializes on the Medellín case. Interestingly, the Post, though urging a temporary stay of execution, does not refer to the International Court of Justice's provisional measures order. Here's the Post editorial:

The case of a Mexican national on death row in Texas continues to roil the international community and subject the United States to criticism that it is unwilling to live up to treaty obligations. Congress is in the best position to deliver a legitimate fix. It must do so, and soon.

José Ernesto Medellín was born in Mexico but lived from childhood with his parents in Texas. Mr. Medellín was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 for his part in the gang rape and murder of two teenage girls. Deep into his appeals process, Mr. Medellín's lawyers argued that he deserved a new trial because Texas officials had failed to inform him that under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations he was entitled to speak with Mexican consular representatives. The United States is among about 160 signatories to the convention.

Texas courts concluded that Mr. Medellín's Vienna Convention challenge was moot because he failed to raise it earlier in the proceedings. The International Court of Justice, the judicial arm of the United Nations, later ruled that the United States was obligated to provide "review and reconsideration" of the cases of Mr. Medellín and 50 other Mexican nationals in similar situations. President Bush ordered Texas to provide such a review, but the Supreme Court concluded in March that the international court's judgment was not binding on Texas and that the president lacked the constitutional authority to order the state to comply. Mexico has now renewed its challenge in the international court; Mr. Medellín is scheduled to be executed Tuesday.

Mr. Medellín has asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for an eight-month reprieve. The board should recommend such a reprieve, and Gov. Rick Perry (R) should grant it. In granting a reprieve, the state would in no way be backing off its defense of its own sovereignty; it would be giving federal lawmakers time to craft an acceptable legislative solution that would allow the United States to honor its treaty obligations -- and, in return, hold the moral high ground when insisting that its citizens be afforded consular access overseas.

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has introduced legislation that would allow foreign nationals to challenge convictions if they are not informed of their right to consular access. Mr. Berman should be commended for tackling the problem, but the legislation should be scaled back significantly so that it applies only to the existing cases of the 51 Mexican nationals. Instead of creating new rights for foreign nationals, lawmakers should consider other ways to enhance compliance with the treaty. One possibility: The federal government could fund training programs for state and local jurisdictions; jurisdictions would receive money annually as long as they were in compliance. But lawmakers must not let disagreement over a future enforcement mechanism derail passage of a narrower bill.