Imagine being arrested in a foreign country where you are unfamiliar with the language, the culture, the legal system or your rights, and never being allowed to contact a U.S. Consulate for help. That's a nightmare that Americans overseas could face if the United States continues to be lax in respecting the rights of foreign nationals arrested in this country.
In the case of 51 Mexican nationals on death row here, the International Court of Justice ruled that the United States did an abysmal job of honoring its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The United States, along with 166 other nations, is a party to the convention, which gives detained foreign nationals the right to access their consulates. The ICJ, also known as the World Court, said that U.S. courts must reconsider these cases to see whether the failure to inform the Mexican nationals of their rights contributed to their convictions and sentences.
Earlier this term, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to review the case of Jose Medellin, a Mexican national sentenced to death in Texas, to determine whether U.S. courts are indeed bound by the World Court's ruling. While the Supreme Court was considering the case, President Bush asked state courts to honor the international tribunal's ruling. Alas, the president's action led the Supreme Court to dismiss the Medellin appeal. The court felt that the states are allowed some deference to decide how the president's request affects the treatment of the Mexican nationals' cases, if at all.