Obama Admin Appeals to Supreme Court on Mexican National Execution Case

Posted: Jul 02, 2011 7:30 PM

An  astute political observer pointed this story out to Hot Air's Ed Morrissey on Twitter, saying it wasn't getting enough attention, so Ed retweeted it and I happened to see the link. The story is, actually, fairly startling, as chronicled by SCOTUS Blog: the Obama administration has asked the Supreme Courtto stay an execution of a Mexican national (Humberto Leal Garcia) in Texas because he claims "Texas violated his rights under an international treaty, the Vienna Convention." The man had been "convicted of the kidnap, rape, and murder of a 16-year-old girl in 1995."

Apparently, there was a similar case under George Bush's administration. Lyle Denniston of SCOTUS Blog explains:

Speaking for the Justice and State Departments, Solicitor General Donald B.Verrilli, Jr., argued that Leal’s execution would cause the U.S. to violate treaty obligations  with “serious repercussions” for foreign policy and would raise threats of retaliation to Americans who travel or work abroad.

Leal’s American attorneys, strongly supported by the Mexican government and several other foreign governments, are seeking to postpone his execution for the same reasons that Verrilli offered Friday: that there is not time, before next Thursday, for Congress to pass a new law that would give Leal and other foreigners convicted of crimes in the U.S. a right to challenge their conviction because they were denied their treaty rights under the Vienna Convention.  That treaty supposedly guarantees a foreign national a right to consult with agents of his home country when arrested for crimes in another nation.

It is rare for the federal government to go to the Court to support delays of execution in state cases.   The new legal efforts of Leal’s defense counsel and the Obama Administration are an attempt to gain a different outcome for him than similar efforts met three years ago.  Then, the George W. Bush Administration and defense lawyers made the attempt to save  another Mexican with the same treaty complaint, Jose Ernesto Medellin.  After losing his challenge in the Supreme Court, Medellin was executed in August 2008 in Huntsville, Texas.

Medellin and Leal were among 51 Mexicans, convicted of crimes in the U.S. without having access to a home-country diplomat, who won a World Court decision in 2004 declaring that the U.S. had failed to live up to its obligations under the Vienna Convention — that is, the duty to give those individuals a chance to contest their convictions because of the breach of the treaty.   Medellin’s case went to the Supreme Court after President Bush sought to directly order state officials to abide by the treaty.