Medellín v. Dretke

PETITIONER:Jose Ernesto Medellin
RESPONDENT:Doug Dretke, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division
LOCATION:Texas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 04-5928
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 544 US 660 (2005)
GRANTED: Dec 10, 2004
ARGUED: Mar 28, 2005
DECIDED: May 23, 2005

Donald Francis Donovan – argued the cause for Petitioner
Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben – argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance
Michael R. Dreeben – argued the cause for Respondent
R. Ted Cruz – argued the cause for Respondent

Facts of the case

A Texas trial court sentenced Medellin, a Mexican citizen, to death for participating in the gang rape and murder of two girls in 1993. A state appeals court affirmed the conviction. Medellin then filed a state habeas corpus action, claiming that Texas failed to notify him of his right to counsel under the Vienna Convention. The state trial court and the appellate court rejected this claim. Medellin then filed a federal habeas petition, raising the Vienna Convention claim. The district court denied the petition. Medellin next appealed to the Fifth Circuit. Before the Fifth Circuit could rule, the International Court of Justice issued its decision in a case where Mexico had alleged the United States violated the Vienna Convention with respect to Medellin and other Mexican citizens facing the death penalty in the United States. The ICJ held that the United States had violated the individually enforceable rights guaranteed by Vienna and must reconsider the convictions. The Fifth Circuit rejected Medellin’s appeal, citing its previous holdings that the Vienna Convention did not create an individually enforceable right. More than two months after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, President George W. Bush issued a memo requiring the United States to follow the ICJ’s ruling by having state courts review the Mexicans’ cases. Citing the memo and the ICJ ruling, Medellin filed a new appeal in a Texas state court.


  1. Is a federal court bound by the International Court of Justice’s ruling that U.S. courts must reconsider a Mexican citizen’s claim for relief under the Vienna Convention? 2. Should a federal court enforce an ICJ ruling?

Media for Medellín v. Dretke

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 28, 2005 in Medellín v. Dretke

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 23, 2005 in Medellín v. Dretke

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in Medellin versus Dretke.

For the reason stated in an opinion filed with the Clerk today, the writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Scalia joins as to part two; Justice O’Connor has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Stevens, Souter, and Breyer join; Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion; Justice Breyer has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Stevens joins.