Thursday, October 11, 2007

Texas Is a State, Isn't It? Inquiring Justices Want to Know

The joke was on Texas yesterday at the Supreme Court.

A Mexican citizen is on death row after Texas failed to follow a treaty that gave him the right to contact his embassy after he was arrested. While quoting a sentence from the U.S. Constitution that says "the judges in every state" are bound by treaties, Justice Stephen Bryer drew a laugh when he said, "I guess it means, including Texas." The following is in today's Santa Fe New Mexican:

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, with a bit of dramatic flair in the packed courtroom Wednesday, whipped out his pocket-size Constitution and began reading to a lawyer from Texas the pertinent section on international treaties.

Treaties "shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state," Breyer said, pausing briefly, "I guess it means, including Texas, 'shall be bound thereby.' "

His little joke aside, Breyer was probing a question at the heart of a complicated dispute over the role of international law and claims of executive power in the case of a Mexican on death row for rape and murder.

Despite his support for the death penalty, President Bush has intervened in the case on behalf of Jose Ernesto Medellin.

Texas Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz told Breyer and his colleagues that the international court ruling has no weight in Texas and that Bush has no power to order its enforcement.

The justices engaged in a spirited discussion of who gets the final say in whether Texas courts must give Medellin a new hearing because local police never notified Mexican diplomats he had been arrested, in violation of an international treaty.

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