[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday refused [opinion, PDF] to stay the planned execution of Mexican national Humberto Leal Garcia [advocacy website]. When Leal Garcia was arrested for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, he was denied consular access, as required by Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations [text, PDF]. There was then a hearing in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which held [judgment, PDF] that Leal Garcia and other Mexican nationals were entitled to hearings in Texas on the consular rights violation in their cases. As neither Texas nor the federal government has codified the treaty, Leal Garcia never received this appeals hearing. The US Department of Justice [official website] argued Leal Garcia’s execution would cause irreparable harm [JURIST report] to relations with Mexico and violate the US’s obligations under international law, and asked that the execution be stayed until the Consular Notification Compliance Act [text, PDF] passes, thus giving Leal Garcia an avenue to appeal his conviction as a violation of his consular rights. In a split per curiam opinion, the majority rejected the Obama administration’s arguments that Leal Garcia’s execution would be detrimental to foreign policy to the degree that they needed to introduce a stay, and cited their previous ruling in Medellin v. Texas [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], not to stay an execution in a similar situation:
First, we are doubtful that it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of unenacted legislation. Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be. In light of Medellin I, it is clear that there is no “fair prospect that a majority of the Court will conclude that the decision below was erroneous,” and our task should be at an end. Neither the United States nor Justice Breyer cites a single instance in this Court’s history in which a stay issued under analogous circumstances. Even if there were circumstances under which a stay could issue in light of proposed legislation, this case would not present them. … It has now been seven years since the ICJ ruling and three years since our decision in Medellin I, making a stay based on the bare introduction of a bill in a single house of Congress even less justified. If a statute implementing Avena had genuinely been a priority for the political branches, it would have been enacted by now.
Leal Garcia’s defense team also made a Due Process [Cornell LII backgrounder] argument, which the court rejected. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing the dissent, argued that Leal Garcia was entitled to the “procedure” of a consular rights hearing, and the Court should not question the administration’s understanding of foreign policy needs:
Thus, on the one hand, international legal obligations, related foreign policy considerations, the prospect of legislation, and the consequent injustice involved should that legislation, coming too late for Leal, help others in identical circumstances all favor granting a stay. And issuing a brief stay until the end of September, when the Court could consider this matter in the ordinary course, would put Congress on clear notice that it must act quickly. On the other hand, the State has an interest in proceeding with an immediate execution. But it is difficult to see how the State’s interest in the immediate execution of an individual convicted of capital murder 16 years ago can outweigh the considerations that support additional delay, perhaps only until the end of the summer. Consequently I would grant the stay that the petitioner requests. In reaching its contrary conclusion, the Court ignores the appeal of the President in a matter related to foreign affairs, it substitutes its own views about the likelihood of congressional action for the views of Executive Branch officials who have consulted with Members of Congress, and it denies the request by four Members of the Court to delay the execution until the Court can discuss the matter at Conference in September. In my view, the Court is wrong in each respect.
Leal Garcia was executed [KTSM report] Thursday evening, an hour after the decision. The decision has drawn criticism from several sources, including a number of US diplomats and US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], the author of the Consular Notification Compliance Act, who said, “Americans detained overseas rely on their access to US consulates every day. If we expect other countries to abide by the treaties they join, the United States must also honor its obligations.”
A stay to Leal Garcia’s execution garnered international support. Officials from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] appealed [JURIST report] directly to Texas Governor Rick Perry [official website] alleging Leal Garcia did not receive a fair trial. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] wrote a personal letter to Perry asking for Leal Garcia’s sentence to be commuted. Letters of support for Leal Garcia arrived from several nations, including Mexico, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Switzerland, Uruguay, as well as the EU. Former president George W. Bush denounced the sentence when he was in office, issuing an executive memoranda [text, PDF] that Texas had to comply with the ICJ’s ruling in approximately 50 Mexican nationals’ planned executions. The Supreme Court ruled in Medellin v. Texas that Bush did not have the authority to direct a state court to comply with a ruling from the ICJ. However, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that Congress could make the treaty binding in domestic law. Texas has already executed two Mexican nationals [JURIST report] who were denied consular access.