Thursday, July 7, 2011

Leal v. Texas

Humberto Leal Garcia (Leal) was a "Mexican national" who has lived in the United States at least since the age of two. In 1994, Leal kidnaped a 16-year-old girl, raped her with a large stick, and bludgeoned her to death with a piece of asphalt. He was then convicted of mur­der and sentenced to death.

On the eve of execution, Leal sought a stay of execution on the ground that his conviction was obtained in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In an International Court of Justice case (Con­cerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals), it was ruled that the United States had violated the Vienna Convention by failing to notify Leal of his right to "consular assistance."

In 2008, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (in Medellín v. Texas) that "neither the Avena decision nor the President’s Memorandum purport­ing to implement that decision constituted directly en­forceable federal law." As a result, Leal and the Obama administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution so Congress could consider whether or not to enact legisla­tion implementing the Avena decision. Actually, the position was taking that the Due Process Clause prohibited Texas from executing Leal while such legislation was under consideration.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found the Obama administration's position "meritless." In sum, it concluded the Due Process Clause "does not prohibit a State from carrying out a lawful judgment in light of unenacted legislation."  It added doubt that "it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of unenacted legislation."

The Obama administration and 4 dissenting justices complained that executing Leal would have "grave international consequences." But the Court notes it has been 7 years since the ICJ ruling and 3 years since the ruling in Medellin. This does not suggest that the implementation of Avena "had genuinely been a prior­ity for the political branches."

Finally, the Court studiously notes that the Obama administration made no claim that the outcome of Leal's trial was "prejudiced" by the Vienna Convention violation. The District Court also found that "any violation of the Vienna Convention would have been harmless."

The dissenting opinion covers little ground that is not impressively smothered in the majority opinion. Justice Breyer does, however, render his position seriously lame by complaining that, in reaching its decision, the majority "substitutes its own views about the likelihood of congressional action for the views of Executive Branch officials who have consulted with Members of Congress." One could read the majority opinion from here to eternity and never see a single word related to the probability of legislation passing. It sad when a straw man is more impressive than the rest of one's legitimate arguments.


JorgXMcKie said...

Well, it would be different if, for instance, sometime during the past seven years a Democrat had been elected President and the Democrats had won Congress. They *surely* would have quickly passed Sen Leahy's bill into law. Well, Mr, Leahy would have had to have been a Senator at the time, so perhaps some actual Senator would have had to sponsor the bill, but still, if only the Democrats had ever been in charge that doggone bill would have passed, so, there!!!

Anonymous said...

How can the President ask others to reduce a sentence when he won't do it himself?

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