Citation. 552 U.S 491 (2008)
Brief Fact Summary.
The International Court of Justice held that 51 Mexican nationals convicted and sentenced in Texas state courts were entitled to review of their convictions under the Vienna Convention. A Texas law barred subsequent habeas corpus petitions. In light of the ICJ’s order, the President issued a memorandum ordering state courts to give effect to the ICJ holding.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The President does not have the unilateral authority to make the treaty obligations of a non-self-executing treaty binding upon domestic courts.
51 Mexican nationals were convicted and sentenced in Texas state court. Texas law prohibited successive habeas corpus petitions. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued the Avena opinion, holding that the Mexican nationals were entitled under the Vienna Convention to review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences, despite the state law bar. Subsequently, the President issued a memorandum ordering state courts to give effect to the ICJ decision to allow the U.S. to discharge its international obligations. Medellin then filed a writ of habeas corpus in Texas state court.
- Can a non-self-executing treaty give the President the authority to make the treaty obligations binding upon domestic courts?
- Was the President’s memorandum a proper exercise of executive foreign affairs power to resolve claims disputes with other countries?
- No, a non-self-executing treaty cannot give the President the authority to make the treaty obligations binding upon domestic courts.
- No, the President’s memorandum was not a proper exercise of the executive foreign affairs power to resolve claims disputes with other countries.
Justice Breyer argued that the President did have the authority to issue the memorandum, and to require the President to obtain congressional authorization before exercising his Article II powers pursuant to a ratified treaty and set aside state law would be unworkable in certain situations, such as in light of a military threat.
- The Government argued that the relevant treaties created an obligation to comply with the ICJ‘s opinion in Avena, which implicitly gave the President the authority to issue the memorandum, which meant that the President’s memorandum fell under the first category of the framework Justice Jackson laid out in his concurring opinion in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. Sawyer. The Supreme Court held that presidential authority must stem from the Constitution or an act of Congress. Youngstown; Dames Moore v. Regan. Article II, section 2 gives the President the power to make a treaty, but Congress has the power to turn international obligations from non-self-executing treaties into domestic law. The Supreme Court accordingly held that the president’s act here did not fall under the first Youngstown category.
- The Government argued that Supreme Court precedent supported their argument that the President had an independent source of authority to order Texas to set aside its procedural rule. They argued that previous cases upheld the President’s authority to resolve claims disputes with other countries. They also argued that the Supreme Court established in Dames Moore that a sufficiently pervasive history of congressional acquiescence can be treated as a gloss on executive power vested in the President by Article II, § 1. The Court rejected this argument, holding that there is not a long, pervasive history of this kind of action, and that the holdings in the cases the Government cited were too narrow to cover the facts at issue here.