Medellin v. Texas

PETITIONER: Jose Ernesto Medellin
RESPONDENT: State of Texas
LOCATION: Earthquake Park

DOCKET NO.: 06-984
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

CITATION: 552 US 491 (2008)
GRANTED: Apr 30, 2007
ARGUED: Oct 10, 2007
DECIDED: Mar 25, 2008

Donald Francis Donovan - on behalf of the Petitioner
Paul D. Clement - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae supporting the Petitioner
R. Ted Cruz - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Jose Medellin, a Mexican national, was convicted and sentenced to death for participating in the gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in Houston. Medellin raised a post-conviction challenge arguing that the state had violated his rights under the Vienna Convention, a treaty to which the United States is a party. Article 36 of the Vienna Convention gives any foreign national detained for a crime the right to contact his consulate. After his petition was ultimately dismissed by the Supreme Court (see Medellin v. Dretke ), Medellin's case returned to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Medellin's argument rested in part on a ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) holding that the U.S. had violated the Vienna Convention rights of 51 Mexican nationals (including Medellin) and that their convictions must be reconsidered. Medellin argued that the Vienna Convention granted him an individual right that state courts must respect, a possibility left open by the Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon. Medellin also cited a memorandum from the President of the United States that instructed state courts to comply with the ICJ's rulings by rehearing the cases. Medellin argued that the Constitution gives the President broad power to ensure that treaties are enforced, and that this power extends to the treatment of treaties in state court proceedings.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected each of Medellin's arguments and dismissed his petition. The court interpreted Sanchez-Llamas as standing for the principle that rulings of the ICJ are not binding on state courts. The Texas court stood by its position that allowing Medellin to raise the Vienna Convention issue after his trial would violate state procedural rules, and that those rules were not supplanted by the Convention. The President had no authority to order the enforcement in state court of an ICJ ruling, because that would imply a law-making power not allocated to him by the Constitution.


  1. Did the President act within his constitutional and statutory foreign affairs authority when he determined that states must comply with the U.S. treaty obligation under the Vienna Convention by enforcing a decision of the International Court of Justice?

  2. Does the Constitution require state courts to honor the treaty obligation of the U.S. by enforcing a decision of the International Court of Justice?

Media for Medellin v. Texas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 2007 in Medellin v. Texas

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 25, 2008 in Medellin v. Texas

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

I have the opinion of the Court in Case 06-984, Medellin versus Texas.

The United States is a party to a treaty known as the Vienna Convention.

That treaty provides that if a foreign citizen is arrested, he has the right to get help from the representative of his home country and to be told of that right.

In this case, petitioner Medellin was arrested in Texas in connection with the brutal gang rape and murder of two girls aged 14 and 16.

He had lived in the United States since preschool, but was a citizen of Mexico.

Upon arrest, Medillin was advised of his Miranda rights, waived them in writing and gave a detailed confession.

He was not, however, advised of his rights under the Vienna Convention.

Medillin was convicted and sentenced to death.

After his conviction became final, Medillin argued that it should be set aside because of the Vienna Convention violation.

The state courts rejected that argument on the ground that it had not been raised in a timely manner under state law.

Meanwhile, the government of Mexico brought a complaint on behalf of Medillin and 50 other similarly situated Mexican citizens seeking relief for the violation of their Vienna Convention rights.

Mexico brought this complaint against the United States in the International Court of Justice.

The International Court of Justice, or ICJ, is an international tribunal located in The Hague that was established pursuant to the United Nations Charter.

The ICJ found in favor of Mexico ruling that the United States should require a reconsideration of Medillin's Vienna Convention claim despite his failure to comply with state procedural rules governing such challenges.

In the case of Sanchez-Llamas versus Oregon, decided in this Court less than two years ago, we confronted a claim by foreign nationals not included in the ICJ's judgment who similarly argued that the Vienna Convention required that state law be set aside in their cases.

We rejected that claim, disagreeing with the ICJ's interpretation of the Vienna Convention, holding instead that the Convention does not trump state procedural rules.

Now, following the ICJ's decision and notwithstanding our decision in Sanchez-Llamas, Medillin filed another application for relief in Texas state court.

He argued that because the United States agreed to the jurisdiction of the ICJ when it signed the Vienna Convention, the ICJ judgment was itself automatically federal law that required Texas to set aside its contrary state rules no matter what this Court had said in Sanchez-Llamas.

The Texas courts rejected that claim we granted review.

Going all the way back to an opinion by Chief Justice John Marshall, this Court has explained that there are two types of treaties.

The President can negotiate and the Senate can ratify a treaty that on its terms specifies that its provisions can automatically become federal law.

Such a treaty is called self-executing and it does indeed trump contrary state and even federal law.

The other type is a treaty that is not self-executing and its provisions become federal law only if Congress passes and the President signs, implementing legislation, giving that effect to them.

We conclude that the ICJ judgment did not automatically become federal law, overriding state law under the Supremacy Clause because the treaties pursuant to which the United States agreed to ICJ jurisdiction do not provide that ICJ judgments would be self-executing.

For example, the UN Charter says that member states will "undertake to comply" with ICJ judgments, which is different from saying they are automatically effective as domestic law.

The relevant treaties provide that ICJ judgments were to be enforced through the UN Security Council and the United States knew that it could always block enforcement if it disagreed with an ICJ judgment by exercising its Security Council veto.

That right would be taken away if ICJ judgments were automatically enforceable as federal law without more.

There are currently 47 nations that have submitted to ICJ jurisdiction in this area.

Not one treats ICJ judgments as binding law in their courts as Medillin argues we should.

For these and other reasons set forth in our opinion, we hold that the ICJ decision does not require Texas to set aside its state law and reconsider Medillin's conviction, but there is more to the case.