Wednesday, May 25, 2005
On Monday, the Supreme Court decided to dismiss the much-anticipated Medellin case as improvidently granted. The practical effect of this ruling is to allow Medellin's habeus appeal to move forward in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. That motion was made in part because of a memorandum issued by President Bush directing the Texas state courts, in the interest of comity, to provide review and reconsideration of Medellin's sentence pursuant to the Vienna Protocol. Since the possibility of obtaining actual relief in this setting is great, given the Presidential directive, the Court obviously believed it unneccessary to reach out and decide the questions presented and direct federal habeus relief. Both the majority and concurring opinions made clear, however, that the Court retained jurisdiction to ultimately pass upon these questions and others arising in the case in the future. On its face, the ruling is entirely reasonable: federal habeus is extraordinary relief, relief to which Medellin might not be entitled, and the fact that he is currently pursuing another avenue of relief with a real possibility of giving him what he wants, review and reconsideration, suggests restraint is the best option. Of course, granting that restraint is the best option in deciding the questions granted certiorari in this case, it does not necessarily follow that DIGging the case is the correct solution. Perhaps an easier solution is to simply stay the appeal until Texas state courts decide the ultimate merits of his state habeus petition. That would allow a much quicker resolution of the merits, and wouldn't preclude the inclusion of additional questions presented. Perhaps most significantly, the Court might ultimately have to pass, no matter which way the State proceedings come out, upon the constitutional power of the President to displace state law in the interests of comity, and even more, his ability to direct state courts to give effect to that displacement. Garamendi suggests some independent power of the President in the foreign affairs arena, but could such an amorphous power really reach to directing state courts how to apply procedural rules? This, along with the question everyone wanted to see decided about the effect of the ICJ ruling on Breard and its application to domestic law, will likely form the heart of the case when it ultimately reaches the court again, which given the constitutionally important issues already on the table and the ones likely to arise, we should expect.