Is the Legacy of Medellin v. Texas an Inhibition to the Development of Uniform Extradition Jurisprudential Standards on the Global Stage?
By: Ian L. Courts, J.D.
It’s a known fact that the United States has considerable influence on the global stage. Generally, the United States’ interests impact events globally, including the progress of international criminal law and jurisprudence. One component of international criminal law is the law of extradition; extradition law governs the removal of a person from one state to another, typically to face some charge. When most people think of extradition, Eric Snowden and the Wikileaks situation come to mind. Indeed, the Eric Snowden case is an example of extradition law mechanics, but it also highlights the broader issue concerning whether the United States’ influence on the global stage is inhibiting a uniform development of extradition law. However, many are not aware of Jose Medellin, where the United States, through the United States Supreme Court, ignored the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, disregarded its obligations under treaty law, and ultimately inhibited the development of global extradition jurisprudence.
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963) treaty, which the United States is a signatory of, outlined the circumstances and methods of extradition between signatory countries. Specifically, the Vienna Convention governs the extradition of persons accused or charged with crimes in another country.  The Vienna Convention outlines that in situations where signatory countries receive an extradition request, where no bilateral treaty exists between the requesting and extraditing country, the Convention’s extradition rules may fill the gap.  Additionally, the Vienna Convention authorized the International Court of Justice to resolve disputes arising under the convention. Regarding the topic at hand, in Medellin, the United States essentially rejected the authority of the International Court of Justice, and in doing so, handicapped the development of global extradition jurisprudence.
On the global stage, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in United States v. Avena held that the United States violated its obligations under the Vienna Convention by not informing the nationals “without delay” of their right to notify the Mexican embassy of their arrest. The ICJ asserted its jurisdiction under the provisions of the Vienna Convention and demanded that the United States provide the nationals with review and reconsideration of the Mexican nationals’ convictions and sentences. Jose Medellin, one of the 51 nationals prosecuted without being notified of his rights under the Vienna Convention, filed a writ for habeas corpus in United States federal courts.
The United States Supreme Court in Medellin v. Texas considered whether the state of Texas had violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963) rights of Jose Medellin, a Mexican national who participated in the brutal rape and killing of two American nationals within Texas. As discussed above, The Vienna Convention required that foreign nationals arrested in a foreign country be read informed of their rights to have their home embassy or consulate notified of their arrest and that any disputes arising under the convention be resolved by the International Court of Justice.
When I first read Medellin in undergrad, I agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision; I felt that international law should not be binding on the U.S. I was suspicious of international courts and tribunals. However, as I have grown, became an attorney, and further developed my interest in foreign policy and international law — I find that the decision by SCOTUS was flawed for two primary reasons: the self-executing vs. non-self-executing distinction is IMO dishonest, and the Vienna Convention’s statutory language supports that issues arising under the Convention are under the jurisdiction of the ICJ.
The U.S. Supreme Court knew that its decision was resting on shaky ground because it was clear that the President, terms of the Convention, and international community expected that the Medellin case would fall under the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. However, U.S. precedent has been historically prejudicial against foreign intervention; clearly, the Supreme Court did not want to cede its power. Thus, in relying on Chief justice Marshall’s precedent in Foster v. Neilson, 2 Pet. 253, 315 (1829), the Court distinguished between self-executing and non-self-executing treaties to preserve its jurisdiction as the final arbiter of U.S. law and shake oversight from international tribunals. The Supreme Court’s rationale did not necessarily have to do with the Convention’s obligations because those were clear but mainly had to do with preserving the Supreme Court’s jurisdictional role and limiting the power of the ICJ.
My current view is that the provisions of the Vienna Convention, whether optional or general, require that the ICJ decide issues involving the Convention. The U.S. has a signatory to the Vienna Convention, and the Medellin case raising Convention issues was obligated to submit to the ICJ’s jurisdiction. The Supreme Court’s decision to ignore the ICJ and find a technicality to prevent the ICJ’s jurisdiction highlights bias and prejudice toward international courts and American domestic institutions’ suspicion of international accountability.
Our world is becoming increasingly interconnected, and in many instances, such as with global crime, the effects of such actions are felt worldwide. Accordingly, political states must work diligently to encourage general cooperation, including within international jurisprudence, on salient issues such as extradition. American exceptionalism, including within the judicial branch, cannot continue to obstruct global peace and accountability.
 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 21 U.S.T. 77, T.I.A.S. №6820 (1970).
 Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. the U.S.), 2004 I.C.J. 12, 128 (March 31).
 See Medellin v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491, 507, 128 S. Ct. 1346, 1357, 170 L. Ed. 2d 190 (2008).