WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday turned aside an appeal by a Mexican citizen on death row in Texas who contended he and 50 other Mexicans should have their death sentences overturned because they were improperly denied legal help from their consulates in violation of international law.
In an unsigned decision, justices dismissed as premature the case of Jose Medellin, who argued he was entitled to a federal court hearing on whether his rights were violated when a Texas court tried and sentenced him to death in 1994 on rape and murder charges without consular access. The court cited a last-minute maneuver by President Bush ordering state courts to revisit the issue, making Supreme Court intervention unnecessary at this time. It reserved the right to hear the appeal again once the case had run its full course in state court.
"In light of the possibility that the Texas courts will provide Medellin with the review he seeks," the opinion stated, "we think it would be unwise to reach and resolve the multiple hindrances to dispositive answers to the questions here presented." [...]
Most Court watchers had thought that the Court would take up the case, not because they disagreed with the administration's action, but because doing otherwise is to allow the executive branch an unusual amount of discretion in determining what the judicial branch will do with cases already in process.
...In a signed dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said she would have ordered the federal courts to review the important issue of whether international law should be binding on the U.S. courts.
The Supreme Court should not refrain from intervening in a case because of Bush's last-minute action and the mere possiblity Medellin might receive relief in the state courts, she wrote in an opinion joined by Justice John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, and Stephen G. Breyer.
In other words, it was a 5-4 decision for dismissal, with O'Connor on the losing side, for the second time in as many 5-4 decisions. Somewhat unusual, these days. It's also a somewhat unusual five-judge majority, with Ginzburg siding with the more conservative justices.
The truly puzzling thing is why the merits of this case aren't being heard. Normally, it takes only four justices to grant certiorari; having a majority for dismissal wouldn't normally seem dispositive. With a four-justice dissent saying that they thought the case should be heard, it would seem that technically, certiorari was granted, and then the case was immediately dismissed as "certiorari improvidently granted".Posted by iain at May 23, 2005 12:30 PM