In a sometimes chaotic oral argument yesterday that exceeded the usual time limits, the Supreme Court struggled to sort out a death penalty case that pits the state of Texas against President Bush, in a battle over states’ rights and the scope of international treaties, reports Legal Times. The case has been an intellectual cause celebre for two years, since Bush ordered Texas courts to heed a ruling by the International Court of Justice — known as the World Court — to reopen the cases of 51 Mexican nationals convicted of crimes in U.S. courts. The international tribunal found that the defendants were not told by police upon arrest that they had the right to contact their home nation’s consulate for legal assistance — a right established in a 1963 treaty ratified by the United States.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals defied the Bush directive, ruling that the president did not have the authority under the Constitution to order states to comply with an international court decision. The Bush administration argued on the side of a convicted murderer, and human rights groups applauded Bush, their usual nemesis, for exercising his executive power to vindicate the treaty rights of foreign nationals. It appeared that the Court’s conservative wing — which recoils from the notion of foreign courts holding sway inside U.S. borders — was deeply skeptical of Bush’s power to enforce the World Court order against reluctant states. It appeared clear that the justices were mainly worried about where Bush’s order left the Supreme Court itself. Many of their questions seemed aimed at protecting the authority of the federal judiciary. “I'm rather jealous of that power,” Justice Antonin Scalia said. “I think it belongs in this court.”