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No. 06-984

In the Supreme Court of the United States

JOSE ERNESTO MEDELLIN, PETITIONER

v.

STATE OF TEXAS

(CAPITAL CASE)

ON PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI
TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS

BRIEF FOR THE UNITED STATES
AS AMICUS CURIAE SUPPORTING PETITIONER

 

PAUL D. CLEMENT
Solicitor General
Counsel of Record
ALICE S. FISHER
Assistant Attorney General
MICHAEL R. DREEBEN
Deputy Solicitor General
IRVING L. GORNSTEIN
Assistant to the Solicitor
General
ROBERT J. ERICKSON
Attorney
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
(202) 514-2217

JAMES H. THESSIN
Acting Legal Adviser
Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520-6310

 

 

 

QUESTIONS PRESENTED

In the Case Concerning Avena & Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.), 2004 I.C.J. 128 (Mar. 31) (Avena), the International Court of Justice decided that, to remedy violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, done, Apr. 24, 1963, 21 U.S.T. 77, 596 U.N.T.S., in the cases of 51 named Mexican na tionals, including petitioner, the United States must provide review and reconsideration of their convictions and sentences through a judicial process to determine whether treaty violations caused actual prejudice, with out regard to procedural default rules. On February 28, 2005, President George W. Bush determined that the United States would comply with its international obligation to give effect to the decision by giving those 51 Mexican nationals review and reconsideration in the state courts. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the President's determination exceeded his powers, and it refused to give effect to the President's deter mination or the Avena decision. The questions pre sented are:

1. Whether the President of the United States acted within his authority under the treaties, statutes, and Constitution of the United States when he determined that the United States will comply with its treaty obligations by having state courts give effect to the Avena decision in the cases of the 51 Mexican nationals addressed in the decision.

2. Whether, absent the President's determination, a private party could enforce the Avena decision in state court.

BRIEF FOR THE UNITED STATES
AS AMICUS CURIAE SUPPORTING PETITIONER

_____________

INTEREST OF THE UNITED STATES

This case presents the questions whether the Presi dent validly determined that the United States will dis charge its international obligations under the decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Case Con cerning Avena & Other Mexican Nationals (Mex. v. U.S.), 2004 I.C.J. 128 (Mar. 31) (Avena), by having state courts give effect to the Avena decision, and whether, apart from the President's determination, the ICJ's de cision would be privately enforceable in state courts. Because those questions involve the lawfulness of a Presidential determination and the effect of the decision below is to undermine his determination of how the United States will comply with its treaty obligations, the United States has a substantial interest in the resolution of those questions. The United States filed a brief in this Court addressing those issues in Medellin v. Dretke, 544 U.S. 660 (2005) (per curiam). It also filed a brief in the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals.

STATEMENT

1. In 1969, after the Senate provided its advice and consent, see 115 Cong. Rec. 30,997, the United States ratified the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (Vienna Convention), done, Apr. 24, 1963, 21 U.S.T. 77, 596 U.N.T.S. 261. Article 36 of the Vienna Convention, 21 U.S.T. 100-101, 596 U.N.T.S. at 292-293, is designed to "facilitat[e] the exercise of consular functions relating to nationals of the sending State." Toward that end, Article 36(1)(a) states that "consular officers shall be free to communicate with nationals of the sending State and to have access to them." 21 U.S.T. at 101, 596 U.N.T.S. at 292.

Article 36 further states that "[i]f he so requests, the competent authorities of the receiving State shall, without delay, inform the consular post of the sending State if, within its consular district, a national of that State is arrested or committed to prison or to custody pending trial or is detained in any other manner." Art. 36(1)(b), 21 U.S.T. at 101, 596 U.N.T.S. at 292. In addi tion, "[a]ny communication addressed to the consular post by the person arrested, in prison, custody or deten tion shall also be forwarded by the said authorities with out delay." Ibid. State authorities "shall inform the person concerned without delay of his rights under [Ar ticle 36]." Ibid.

Article 36(1)(c) also states that "consular officers shall have the right to visit a national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention, to converse and correspond with him and to arrange for his legal representation." 21 U.S.T. at 101, 596 U.N.T.S. at 292. It specifies that consular officers also "have the right to visit any national of the sending State who is in prison, custody or detention in their district in pursuance of a judgment." Ibid. At the same time, it provides that "consular officers shall refrain from taking action on behalf of a national who is in prison, custody or deten tion if he expressly opposes such action." Ibid.

The rights referred to in Article 36(1), 21 U.S.T. at 100-101, 596 U.N.T.S. at 292, "shall be exercised in con formity with the laws and regulations of the receiving State." Art. 36(2), 21 U.S.T. at 101, 596 U.N.T.S. at 292- 293. That requirement "is subject to the proviso, how ever, that the said laws and regulations must enable full effect to be given to the purposes for which the rights accorded under this Article are intended." Ibid.

An Optional Protocol Concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes (Optional Protocol), done, Apr. 24, 1963, 21 U.S.T. 325, 596 U.N.T.S. 487, which the United States ratified in 1969, Art. I, 21 U.S.T. 326, 596 U.N.T.S. 488, and from which it withdrew on March 7, 2005, Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon, 126 S. Ct. 2669, 2675 (2006), provides that "[d]isputes arising out of the inter pretation or application of the [Vienna] Convention shall lie within the compulsory jurisdiction of the Interna tional Court of Justice." 21 U.S.T. at 326, 596 U.N.T.S. at 488. Any party to the Optional Protocol may bring such disputes before the ICJ. Ibid.

Article 94 of the Charter of the United Nations (U.N. Charter), 59 Stat. 1051, which is also a Treaty ratified by the United States, provides that "[e]ach member of the United Nations undertakes to comply with the decision of the International Court of Justice in any case to which it is a party." Article 59 of the Statute of the Interna tional Court of Justice (ICJ statute), 59 Stat. 1055, 1062, which is incorporated into the U.N. Charter, provides that the decision of the ICJ "has no binding force except between the parties and in respect of that particular case." Only nations may be parties to cases before the ICJ. Art. 34, 59 Stat. 1059.

2. Petitioner, a Mexican national, was convicted of participating in the gang rape and murder of two teen age girls and was sentenced to death. Pet. App. 2a. On direct review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals af firmed the conviction and sentence. Ibid.

Petitioner then filed a habeas action in state court, claiming for the first time that Texas's failure to inform him of his rights under the Vienna Convention required reversal of his conviction and sentence. Pet. App. 2a. The state trial court rejected that claim on several grounds, including that petitioner had procedurally de faulted that claim by failing to raise it at trial. Ibid. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Id. at 2a-3a.

3. Petitioner then sought federal habeas corpus re lief, based on his Vienna Convention claim. Pet. App. 3a. The district court rejected that claim. Ibid. While peti tioner's application for a certificate of appealability was pending in the Fifth Circuit, the ICJ issued its decision in Avena. Id. at 86a-186a.

In Avena, ICJ determined that the United States had violated Article 36(1)(b) of the Vienna Convention, 21 U.S.T. at 101, 596 U.N.T.S. at 292, by not informing 51 Mexican nationals, including petitioner, of their Vienna Convention rights, and by not notifying consular author ities of the detention of 49 Mexican nationals, including petitioner. Pet. App. 183a, para. 153(4) and (5). The ICJ determined that the appropriate remedy for those viola tions "consists in the obligation of the United States of America to provide, by means of its own choosing, re view and reconsideration of the convictions and sen tences of the [affected] Mexican nationals." Id. at 185a, para. 153(9). The ICJ indicated that review and recon sideration should occur through a judicial process, id. at 174a, paras. 140-141, that the relevant inquiry was whether a violation caused actual prejudice to the defen dant, id. at 165a, para. 121, and that procedural default rules could not bar that review. Id. at 160a-161a, para. 113.

The Fifth Circuit denied petitioner's application for a certificate of appealability. Medellin v. Dretke, 371 F.3d 270 (2004), cert dismissed, 544 U.S. 660 (2005). It held that petitioner had procedurally defaulted his Vienna Convention claim and that the Vienna Convention does not confer an individually enforceable right. Id. at 280. This Court granted review. See Medellin v. Dretke, 543 U.S. 1032 (2004).

Before the Court heard argument in Medellin, three significant events occurred. First, on February 28, 2005, the President issued a determination that "the United States will discharge its international obligations under the decision of the International Court of Justice in the Case Concerning Avena and Other Mexican Na tionals (Mexico v. United States of America) (Avena), 2004 I.C.J. 128 (Mar. 31), by having state courts give effect to the decision in accordance with general princi ples of comity in cases filed by the 51 Mexican nationals addressed in that decision." Pet. App. 187a. Second, on March 7, 2005, the United States gave notice of its with drawal from the Optional Protocol. See Sanchez-Lla mas 126 S. Ct. at 2675. Third, relying on the President's determination and the Avena decision, petitioner filed an application in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for state habeas corpus review. Pet. App. 4a-5a.

After argument, this Court dismissed the petition for a writ of certiorari in Medellin as improvidently grant ed. Medellin v. Dretke, 544 U.S. 660 (2005) (per curiam). The Court explained that it had taken that action be cause the recently initiated state proceeding might pro vide petitioner with the review and reconsideration he sought, and because threshold procedural issues could independently bar federal habeas review. Id. at 664.

4. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals subsequently dismissed petitioner's application for state habeas cor pus relief. Pet. App. 1a-79a. The court held that the Avena decision and the President's determination "do not constitute binding federal law" and therefore do not preempt the State's prohibition against the filing of suc cessive applications for state habeas corpus relief. Id. at 64a.

The court rejected petitioner's reliance on the Avena decision as a source of binding law based on this Court's decision in Sanchez-Llamas. Pet. App. 20a-24a. Noting this Court's statement that determining the meaning of treaties that are given effect as federal law is the "prov ince and duty of the judicial department," 126 S. Ct. at 2684 (internal quotation marks omitted), the court inter preted Sanchez-Llamas to hold that "ICJ decisions are not binding on United States courts." Pet. App. 24a.

With respect to the President's determination, a four- judge plurality of the court ruled that the President "has exceeded his constitutional authority by intruding into the independent powers of the judiciary" to determine "what law to apply" and "how to interpret the applicable law." Pet. App. 30a. Referring to the framework for review of Presidential action proposed by Justice Jack son in his concurrence in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 635-638 (1952), the plurality first examined whether the President's action was sup ported by his "inherent foreign affairs power." Pet. App. 30a. The plurality concluded that the President's action could not be upheld under cases recognizing the Presi dent's foreign-affairs authority to resolve an interna tional dispute through an executive agreement, because the President's action in this case constituted a "unilat eral act." Id. at 43a.

The plurality next rejected the United States' argu ment that the United States' ratification of the U.N. Charter and Congress's enactment of federal statutes pertaining to the United Nations implicitly give the President authority to determine how to respond to an ICJ decision. Pet. App. 53a-55a. The plurality reasoned that "[t]he President is still bound by the Constitution when deciding how the United States will respond to an ICJ decision," and that, for the reasons already given, "the President exceeded his implied foreign affairs power by directing state courts to give effect to Avena." Id. at 55a.

Presiding Judge Keller filed a concurring opinion. Pet. App. 64a-71a. She concluded that the President's determination violated principles of federalism because, in her view, no treaty authorized the President's deter mination, and its validity therefore turned on a balance of strength of federal and state interests. Here, she believed, the national interest served by the President's determination is "attenuated," while the State's interest in criminal justice is "fundamental." Id. at 69a.

Judge Cochran also filed a concurring opinion. Pet. App. 76a-79a. She concluded that, because the Presi dent's determination took the form of a memorandum to the Attorney General, rather than a Presidential Procla mation or an Executive Order, it could not create bind ing federal law. Id. at 78a-79a.

ARGUMENT

I. REVIEW IS WARRANTED ON THE QUESTION WHETH ER THE PRESIDENT VALIDLY DETERMINED TO HAVE STATE COURTS GIVE EFFECT TO AVENA

The decision of the ICJ in Avena imposed an interna tional law obligation on the United States to accord re view and reconsideration through a judicial process in the cases of the individual defendants addressed in that decision. Although the President does not agree with the ICJ's interpretations of the Vienna Convention, the President recognized that the United States had, pursu ant to the Optional Protocol, agreed to resolution of the dispute by the ICJ, and that it is answerable under the U.N. Charter for any failure to comply. To discharge its international obligations under Avena-and thereby to protect the interests of United States citizens abroad, promote the effective conduct of foreign relations, and underscore the United States' commitment in the inter national community to the rule of law-the President determined to have state courts provide review and re consideration under Avena of the convictions and sen tences imposed, while also withdrawing from the Op tional Protocol. See Sanchez-Llamas v. Oregon, 126 S. Ct. 2669, 2685 (2006). The decision of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to invalidate the President's action frustrates the Executive's determinations in this sensi tive area, and thwarts the intent of the Optional Protocol and U.N. Charter to confer upon the President adequate authority and responsibility to carry out the Nation's treaty obligations. That decision warrants this Court's review.

A. Because The Decision Below Invalidated An Action Of The President On A Matter Of International Importance, Review By This Court Is Warranted

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals expressly held that the President exceeded his authority in having state courts give effect to the Avena decision. A majority of the court concluded that the President lacked authority under the treaties, statutes, and Constitution of the United States to ensure that the United States complies with the Avena decision. A state court decision invali dating such an action of the President and effectively frustrating efforts to comply with international treaty obligations clearly warrants this Court's review.

The President's determination that state courts give effect to the Avena decision was intended to discharge the United States' international law obligation to comply with that decision and reflects the President's consid ered judgment that the United States' foreign policy interests in meeting its international obligations and protecting Americans abroad require the United States to comply with the ICJ's decision. In setting aside the President's determination, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has not only decided fundamental questions of federal law relating to the authority of the President to bring the United States into compliance with its treaty obligations. It has also set a course that, if not reversed, will place the United States in breach of its international law obligation to comply with the Avena decision, leave unresolved the dispute between Mexico and the United States over the treatment of petitioner, and frustrate the President's judgment that foreign policy interests are best served by giving effect to that decision. The importance of the question of the Presidential authority resolved by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and the foreign policy ramifications of that decision, make the need for this Court's review manifest.

In Medellin v. Dretke, 544 U.S. 660 (2005) (per curiam), even before the President issued his determina tion, this Court granted review on the question whether the Avena decision should be given effect in the domes tic courts of this country. The Court dismissed the peti tion for a writ of certiorari as improvidently granted only because the Texas courts might provide the relief that petitioner sought and because there were potential procedural barriers to consideration of the effect of the President's determination and the Avena decision on federal habeas corpus review. Id. at 663-664. In dis missing the petition for a writ of certiorari, the Court anticipated the possibility of review following the state courts' disposition of petitioner's state habeas petition. Id. at 664 n.1. Similarly, in a concurring opinion, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Scalia, noted that "[t]he Texas courts are now positioned immediately to adjudi cate these cleanly presented issues in the first instance," and "[i]n turn, it will be this Court's responsibility, at the proper time and if need be, to provide the ultimate answers." Id. at 672 (Ginsburg, J., joined by Scalia, J.).

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has now ruled on the question of the President's authority to require state courts to give effect to the Avena judgment, and there are no procedural barriers to the consideration of that issue. The Court should grant the petition for a writ of certiorari to resolve that issue.

B. The President Had Authority Under The Treaties, Stat utes, And Constitution Of The United States To Require State Courts To Give Effect To The Avena Decision

The Texas Criminal Court of Appeals erred in holding that the President lacked authority to ensure the United States' compliance with its international obligation by having state courts give effect to the Avena decision. The President's authority to implement the Avena deci sion flows directly from the combination of two trea ties-the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter-as in formed by the President's unique role in foreign affairs, his statutory responsibilities, and his traditional author ity in judicial proceedings implicating international law. Cf. Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579, 635 (1952) (Jackson, J., concurring) ("When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied autho rization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.").

Through ratification of the Optional Protocol, the United States agreed to submit to the ICJ for resolution "[d]isputes arising out of the interpretation or applica tion of the Convention." Optional Protocol, Art. I, 21 U.S.T. at 326, 596 U.N.T.S. at 488. Through ratification of the U.N. Charter, the United States agreed "to com ply with the decision of the International Court of Jus tice in any case to which it is a party." Art. 94(1), 59 Stat. 1051. And it further agreed that the ICJ's decision would have "binding force * * * between the parties and in respect to that particular case." Article 59 of the ICJ statute, 59 Stat. 1062. The combined effect of those treaty provisions is that the Avena decision has "binding force" on the United States, and the United States has an obligation "to comply with the decision" by providing review and reconsideration to 51 individuals.1

The authority to decide whether this Nation will com ply with an ICJ decision, and, if so, how compliance should be achieved, falls on the President. The Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter implicitly delegate that authority to the President, consistent with the Presi dent's role as the representative of the Nation in foreign affairs and in resolving disputes under those treaties. Several considerations support that conclusion.

1. First, the questions whether to comply with an ICJ decision and if so, through what means, raise sensitive foreign policy issues and often call for a prompt re sponse. Because the President is uniquely positioned both to evaluate and resolve sensitive foreign policy is sues and to act with dispatch, the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter are most sensibly read to entrust the President with the responsibility of deciding how to re spond to an ICJ decision.

In this case, for example, the President was best posi tioned to balance the harm from complying with a deci sion with which he disagreed against the adverse conse quences to the conduct of foreign affairs and to Ameri can citizens abroad that would attend defiance of the decision. The President resolved those competing con siderations by having state courts give effect to the Avena decision with respect to 51 individuals on whose behalf Mexico brought the ICJ case, while withdrawing from the Optional Protocol, so as to foreclose the possi bility that the ICJ would apply its erroneous interpreta tion in future cases that might bind the United States under international law. Because the President was un questionably in the best position to weigh the strength of those competing considerations, and to balance them in light of global foreign policy concerns, the applicable treaties are logically understood as delegating to the President the authority to strike the appropriate bal ance for the Nation.

2. In addition, Congress has expressly authorized the President to direct all functions connected with the United States' participation in the United Nations. See 22 U.S.C. 287, 287a. Pursuant to that authority, the President represents the United States in cases before the ICJ. The President also has responsibility to repre sent the United States before the Security Council if the United States were to decide not to comply with an ICJ decision, and a party to the decision were to seek to en force the decision in the Security Council pursuant to Article 94(2), 59 Stat. 1051. A logical and coherent scheme is established when the same person who repre sents the United States before the ICJ and before the Security Council in the event of an enforcement action for failure to comply with an ICJ decision also has au thority to decide how the Nation should respond to an ICJ decision and to carry out the Nation's international obligations if he so determines.

3. Authorities that the President exercises in a num ber of different international law areas also support in terpreting the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter to recognize and confer Presidential authority to re spond to an ICJ decision and to take actions necessary for the Nation to comply.

a. The task of responding to an ICJ decision has sig nificant parallels to the President's established dispute resolution authority. In a series of cases, the Court has held that the President may settle disputes with foreign nations involving the claims of particular individuals through executive agreements that do not require advise and consent by the Senate or approval by Congress. American Ins. Assoc. v. Garamendi, 539 U.S. 396, 415 (2003); Dames & Moore v. Regan, 453 U.S. 654, 682-683 (1981); United States v. Pink, 315 U.S. 203, 223 (1942); United States v. Belmont, 301 U.S. 324, 330-331 (1937). For example in Garmendi, after the President reached an international agreement to resolve Holocaust-era claims, the Court held that a state law that clearly con flicted with the express federal policy reflected in the President's determination was preempted. Similarly, in Dames & Moore, the Court upheld a Presidential order suspending claims in American courts in order to effec tuate the terms of an executive agreement resolving claims between the United States and Iran. As those and other cases illustrate, executive branch agreements with foreign governments to resolve disputes affecting the claims of specific individuals can validly preempt state law. Garamendi, 539 U.S. at 416-417; Pink, 315 U.S. at 223, 230-231; Belmont, 310 U.S. at 327, 331.

In crucial respects, the President exercises a more modest power in responding to an ICJ decision than the power he exercised in the cases cited above. The range of possible international disputes subject to executive settlement is potentially quite extensive, while the re sponsibility for complying with particular ICJ decisions is constrained by the particular decision and the rela tively narrow scope of disputes subject to ICJ jurisdic tion. Moreover, in each of the settlement cases, the President decided on the terms of the settlement with out approval from the Senate or Congress. In the pres ent context, by contrast, the Senate, by a two-thirds ma jority, U.S. Const. Art. I, § 3, Cl. 2, gave its advice and consent to both the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter, and those treaties, in combination, expressly authorize the ICJ to issue a binding resolution of a dis pute arising under the Vienna Convention. Once the ICJ issues such a Senate-authorized resolution of a dis pute, only the question of implementation of that resolu tion remains. In light of the President's established au thority to resolve disputes with a foreign government without Senate or congressional approval, the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter should be understood to recognize, and to provide the President with, the more modest implementation authority at stake here.

b. The President's implied authority under the Op tional Protocol and the U.N Charter to implement an ICJ decision also follows logically from the Presi dent's established authority to file suit to enforce a Treaty without express treaty or statutory authoriza tion. Sanitary Dist. v. United States, 266 U.S. 405, 425- 426 (1925). If, as Sanitary District makes clear, the President has authority to sue a State to enforce the United States' treaty obligation to give effect to the Avena decision, the President also has authority to re quire States to implement the Avena decision without the need for coercive and disruptive litigation.

c. The President's claim of authority under the Op tional Protocol and the U.N. Charter to implement an ICJ decision also draws strength from other contexts in which the Executive Branch has exercised authority to determine authoritatively whether an international rule of law should be applied in domestic courts. For exam ple, before enactment of the Foreign Sovereign Immuni ties Act of 1976, 28 U.S.C. 1602 et seq., the Executive Branch determined whether a foreign sovereign should receive immunity from suit, and courts gave effect to Executive Branch determinations. See Verlinden B.V. v. Central Bank of Nig., 461 U.S. 480, 486 (1983). Simi larly, the Executive Branch authoritatively determines what governments are entitled to sue in our courts. Pfizer, Inc. v. India, 434 U.S. 308, 319-320 (1978). And the Executive Branch also authoritatively determines whether a treaty remains in force. See Terlinden v. Ames, 184 U.S. 270, 285 (1902).

4. Practice also supports the President's claim of au thority under the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Char ter to respond authoritatively to an ICJ decision. Dur ing the time that the United States has submitted dis putes to the ICJ for resolution, the ICJ has rendered five decisions that have called for implementation by the United States, including Avena.2 In each case, the Pres ident, or the Executive Branch acting on Presidential authority, made the decision on how to respond to the ICJ decision. And in each case, Congress acquiesced in the President's response. Cf. Dames & Moore, 453 U.S. at 678 (finding relevant a "history of congressional ac quiescence" in Presidential authority).

5. Finally, the Presidential determination at issue in this case also falls comfortably within the President's implied authority under the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter because it intrudes no more on state au thority than is necessary to fulfill the United States' treaty obligation to comply with Avena. As Avena re quires, the President's determination requires review and reconsideration, without regard to procedural de fault principles, but it did not divest state courts of au thority to resolve the underlying claims. Nor did the President require state courts to reach a particular re sult with respect to those claims. The President instead required only that, for 51 Mexican nationals, the States that failed to comply with the Vienna Convention with respect to those individuals determine whether the State's violation prejudiced the defense. That process respects the State's traditional role in evaluating the merits of the claims of those who seek to overturn their state law criminal convictions or sentences, while ensur ing that the United States discharges its treaty-based international law obligation. Indeed, the result here is less intrusive than the complete displacement of state causes of action through the President's well established authority to settle international disputes.

C. The Reasons Offered By The Court Below For Invalidat ing The President's Determination Are Unpersuasive

No majority of the court below joined a single opinion invalidating the President's determination. The various opinions, however, offer three principal rationales. None is persuasive.

1. First, the plurality reasoned that the President's action is invalid because it takes the form of unilateral action, rather than an agreement with Mexico. Pet. App. 43a. That rationale ignores the crucial fact that the United States and Mexico had already agreed through the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter to resolve their dispute by submitting it to the ICJ for a binding decision. Once the ICJ issued its decision, a second agreement would be superfluous. The President simply had to decide whether to implement a previously agreed-upon resolution.

The plurality's rationale also needlessly hamstrings the President's authority to fulfill the United States' international law obligations. Securing yet another agreement may be a time-consuming process when the President has determined that swift action is required. A government may be unwilling to enter a successive agreement, yet be willing to acquiesce in the President's implementation of a preexisting one. And the precondi tion imposed by the plurality would effectively give a foreign government a veto power over the President's exercise of authority under treaties of the United States.

2. In a separate opinion, Presiding Judge Keller con cluded that the President's determination violated prin ciples of federalism because she viewed the national in terest served by the President's determination as weak, and the State's interest in failing to comply with the President's determination as strong. Pet. App. 69a-71a. But where, as here, the President acts pursuant to his authority under treaties of the United States, principles of federalism do not stand as an obstacle. To the con trary, federal law is supreme, and state law must give way. See p. 14, supra.

In any event, Judge Keller incorrectly weighed the competing federal and state interests. In characterizing the federal interest as weak, Judge Keller failed to take into account the compelling national interests implicated by the President's determination that promoting the in ternational rule of law and protecting Americans abroad require implementation of Avena. And Judge Keller overstated the intrusion on the States' interest of having to determine in 51 cases whether their own violations of a Treaty caused prejudice to the defendant. That inter est, while not insubstantial, is far outweighed by the federal interests supporting the President's determina tion. Moreover, much of the intrusion on state interests is inherent in the Vienna Convention itself. That Con vention involves an international obligation of the United States that clearly extends, by virtue of the Su premacy Clause, to state and local laws. The additional intrusion on States that occurs when an international tribunal imposes an obligation on the United States through a decision made binding by the Optional Proto col and the U.N. Charter pales in comparison with the federal interest in treaty compliance.

3. Finally, Judge Cochran concluded that because the President's determination took the form of a memoran dum to the Attorney General, rather than a Presidential Proclamation or an Executive Order, it could not create binding federal law. Pet. App. 76a-79a. Nothing in United States Constitution, however, requires a Presi dential directive to take any particular form. What is crucial here is that the terms of the President's determi nation make clear that it was intended to have the legal effect of discharging the United States' obligation by having state courts give effect to the Avena decision in the case of 51 identified individuals. Id. at 187a. Noth ing more was required.

II. WHILE THE AVENA DECISION IS NOT PRIVATELY ENFORCEABLE, THE UNITED STATES DOES NOT OPPOSE REVIEW OF THAT QUESTION

Petitioner contends (Pet. 24-26) that the Avena deci sion is privately enforceable because the Optional Proto col and the U.N. Charter obligate the United States to comply with the decision. For the reasons previously discussed, however, the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter give the President the authority to decide whether the United States will comply with an ICJ deci sion, and if so, what measures should be taken to com ply. Allowing private enforcement, without the Presi dent's authorization, would undermine the President's ability to make those determinations. Cf. Pasquantino v. United States, 544 U.S. 349, 369 (2005). Thus, far from being supported by the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter, private enforcement of an ICJ decision conflicts with those treaties. See Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae in Medellin at 33-38 (No. 04- 5928).

Moreover, while the Optional Protocol and the U.N. Charter together create an obligation to comply with an ICJ decision, nothing in the text of those treaties sug gests that an ICJ decision was intended to be privately enforceable. Cf. Sanchez-Llamas, 126 S. Ct. at 2679. To the contrary, the ICJ statute, which is incorporated into the U.N. Charter, makes clear both that an ICJ decision is binding only between the parties to the case, Art. 59, 59 Stat. 1062, and that only nations can be parties. Art. 34, 59 Stat. 1059. Accordingly, in the absence of the President's determination, the ICJ's decision could not be privately enforced in court.

The United States nonetheless does not oppose a grant of certiorari on that question, which the Court had granted review to decide in Medellin v. Dretke. While the Court has since decided Sanchez-Llamas, and that decision cuts against petitioner's position, that case in volved the question whether an ICJ interpretation should be given effect in this country's courts. Because it did not present the question whether an ICJ decision should be given effect, it did not resolve that question.

CONCLUSION

The petition for a writ of certiorari should be granted.

Respectfully submitted.

JAMES H. THESSIN
Acting Legal Adviser
Department of State

PAUL D. CLEMENT
Solicitor General
ALICE S. FISHER
Assistant Attorney General
MICHAEL R. DREEBEN
Deputy Solicitor General
IRVING L. GORNSTEIN
Assistant to the Solicitor
General
ROBERT J. ERICKSON
Attorney

MARCH 2007

1 The term "decision" refers to what in United States practice would be called the judgment, and it is only that portion of an ICJ opinion with which the United States must comply. The United States does not have an international obligation to acquiesce in or follow the legal reasoning of an ICJ opinion, and it has not acquiesced in the legal reasoning of Avena. See Sanchez-Llamzs, 126 S. Ct. at 2685.

2 See Case Concerning Rights of Nationals of the United States of America in Morocco (Fr. v. U.S.), 1952 I.C.J. 176 (Aug. 27); Case Con cerning Military & Paramilitary Activities In & Against Nicaragua (Nicar. v. U.S.), 1986 I.C.J. 14 (June 27); Case Concerning Delimita tion of the Maritime Boundary in the Gulf of Maine Area (Can. v. U.S.), 1984 I.C.J. 246 (Oct. 12); LaGrand Case (F.R.G. v. U.S.), 2001 I.C.J. 466 (June 27).