President Bush received a storm of criticism when he withdrew the US from the International Criminal Court, claiming that its mandate was much too broad and checks on its power too few, which would lead it to pursuing political ends through bogus criminal prosecutions. Well, if it the World Court is any guideline, it looks like Bush’s critics may owe him an apology:
The International Court of Justice on Wednesday ruled that the United States violated the rights of 47 Mexicans on death row and ordered their cases be reviewed. The United Nations’ highest judiciary, also known as the world court, was considering whether 52 convicted murderers had received their right to assistance from their government in a case filed by Mexico. …
In hearings in December, lawyers for Mexico argued that any U.S. citizen accused of a serious crime abroad would want the same right, and the only fair solution for the 52 men allegedly denied diplomatic help was to start their legal processes all over again. Juan Manuel Gomez said that Mexico “doesn’t contest the United States’ right as a sovereign country to impose the death penalty for the most grave crimes,” but wants to make sure its citizens aren’t abused by a foreign legal system they don’t always understand.
U.S. lawyer William Taft argued that the prisoners had received fair trials. He said even if the prisoners didn’t get consular help, the way to remedy the wrong “must be left to the United States.” In its written arguments, the United States said that Mexico’s request would be a “radical intrusion” into the U.S. justice system, contradicting laws and customs in every city and state in the nation.
The problem with the court’s ruling is twofold. First, it has no standing in the American criminal justice system and therefore its rulings have no legal weight to overturn jury verdicts or appellate court rulings. Therefore, any expectation that their decisions must carry legal weight within the US is a violation of the sovereignty of our own judicial system, which would be made subservient to the World Court under these conditions. That should be unacceptable to all Americans, especially considering that the World Court recognizes no appellate authority.
Second, and somewhat related, is that such a ruling, if accepted by the United States, would end state sovereignty over criminal justice by forcing all cases to be tried through federal courts. Most criminal law exists as state penal codes, not federal law, and each state has its own court system to try cases resulting from violations of those codes. The federal appellate system only has jurisdiction in regards to ensuring that the states act within the federal Constitution. Federal courts cannot just insert themselves into non-federal criminal cases, and an expectation that they can underscores the lack of basic understanding that the World Court has of the US justice system. (The judge who handed down the decision is from China.)
The notion that an arresting officer must inform suspects of their consular rights is ludicrous. Americans don’t require “papers” for internal travel the way most other countries do, and often the nationality of suspects at the time of arrest can’t be known. That’s what lawyers are for, and our courts routinely throw out convictions for failure to provide effective legal counsel. Either American police would have to tell people they can contact their consulate at every single arrest — a ludicrous and confusing instruction for Americans being placed into custody — or the US would have to require everyone to start carrying papers identifying their nationality and right to travel internally. Neither would be practical, and the latter would be a serious restriction on our freedom.
But that’s not really what the World Court wants anyway. The ICJ intends on complicating as many death-penalty cases as possible for political purposes regardless of jurisdiction or common sense. I am no fan of the death penalty; I oppose it for religious as well as pragmatic reasons, but I’m outvoted, and I accept that. However, that doesn’t mean that I want the UN or its autocratic, appeal-less bureaucracy involving itself into American jurisprudence.