Dulles, Virginia — The World Court got a whoopin last week when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Medellin v. Texas, which involves Jose Medellin, a death row inmate convicted of rape and murder of two teenage girls in 1993. Writing the 6-3 majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts informed the wig-wearing jurists at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Texas courts are under no obligation to obey the ICJ’s ruling to give Medellin a new hearing.
Medellin is a gang member and a Mexican national. When he was arrested for, and confessed to, his heinous crime, authorities failed to inform him of his right under the Vienna Convention to notify the Mexican consulate. He found his way to the World Court with 50 other Mexican nationals who claimed a similar fate.
On March 31, 2004, the ICJ unanimously ruled that the United States violated Medellin’s rights and ordered the U.S. to “provide, by means of its own choosing, review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence.” The UN court informed the United States that its judgment was “final, without appeal and binding on the Parties.” Guess again, said the Supreme Court.
“[N]ot all international law obligations automatically constitute binding federal law enforceable in the United States courts,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts. He observed that allowing “the judgments of an international tribunal a higher status than that enjoyed by ‘many of our most fundamental constitutional protections,’” was never a consideration of those who negotiated the UN Charter — the treaty that created the ICJ.
The majority opinion in Medellin, correctly categorizes this and other ICJ verdicts not as orders from a legitimate magistrate that are binding, but rather, as diplomatic judgments to be taken under advisement by national governments.
In so doing, it raises for inspection this notion of “international law.” Global governance activists insist that a body of universal law exists to which nations and their citizens are legally bound to conform. They believe there is a judicial hierarchy in which our Constitution can be trumped by the UN Charter and the Supreme Court overruled by foreigners.
In fact, obedience to “international law” is really the art of diplomacy. Rulings from the ICJ and other UN institutions are nothing more than political footballs for governments to kick around. They are adhered to only to the extent that nations choose to do so.
Medellin is a case in point. When the ICJ issued its ruling, President Bush caved — not to international authority, but to international opinion. “I have determined,” the President wrote to the Attorney General, “that the United States will discharge its international obligations under the decision of the International Court of Justice…by having State courts give effect to the decision.”
He did so because he was under diplomatic and media pressure for mishaps at Abu Ghraib, false accusations about Guantanamo Bay, and for hurting the delicate feelings of our European allies. It was a crass political decision to put the interests of global elites and their glee club in the State Department over those of justice.
So the good news is that a majority of the Supreme Court understands that “international law” is conceptual and voluntary. The bad news is that too many in government believe that the U.S. should be bound at all costs by the UN Charter, the World Trade Organization, the International Seabed Authority, and the International Criminal Court, to name a few.
This cornucopia of courts sets the rules and to all of them Uncle Sam must abide, according to John Bellinger, legal advisor to Condi Rice. “Rather than leaving it to politicians to decide when to comply with our international obligations,” Mr. Bellinger explained in a speech at The Hague last June, “our system goes to great lengths to attach serious legal consequences to international rules.”
Bellinger’s comments highlight the arrogance of too many in the legal community — both domestic and international — who believe that the creation, interpretation, and enforcement of law is a wholly owned enterprise of lawyers and judges. Fortunately, the Medellin decision allowed Chief Justice John Roberts to set him straight.
“Our Framers,” Roberts reminded us, “established a careful set of procedures that must be followed before federal law can be created under the Constitution — vesting that decision in the political branches, subject to checks and balances.”
In other words, “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
The sovereignty of the United States shall not be infringed. It is so ordered.
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