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High Court Rules on Special Education Law, Hears Death Row Case

The Supreme Court affirmed Wednesday that New York City must pay private school tuition for a special education student and considered whether a Mexican man on death row should be granted a new hearing to comply with international law. A reporter provides an update.

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    The Supreme Court hears questions about presidential authority. Margaret Warner has our story.


    Today's arguments at the court pitted the Bush administration and lawyers for a convicted murderer against lawyers for the state of Texas.

    The case involves a Mexican man on death row in Texas who was not advised before his trial of his right to contact the Mexican consulate. President Bush ordered the Texas court to review his 1994 conviction, but the state refused.

    NewsHour regular Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal was in the courtroom today, and she joins us once again.

    So, Marcia, very strange bedfellows. We've got the Bush administration and lawyers for this convicted murderer against the state of Texas. How did this case end up at the Supreme Court?

  • MARCIA COYLE, National Law Journal:

    It is a fascinating case. The Mexican national on Texas death row is Jose Medellin. And after he was convicted and sentenced to death for participating in a very brutal gang rape and murder of two teenaged girls, he began pursuing his appeals through the Texas courts.

    While he was doing that, the government of Mexico brought proceedings against the United States before the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, which is the judicial arm of the United Nations. Mexico claimed — and the World Court ultimately agreed — that the United States had violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the treaty that requires the government to notify foreign nationals when they've been detained that they have a right to consult their embassies or their consuls.

    Medellin, once this ruling came down, went back into court to say, OK, I have this claim. My rights were violated. The Texas court said, Sorry, this international court's judgment doesn't have the force of law in Texas courts, and the president's declaration, that we have to enforce it, he exceeded his authority. Medellin is now before the Supreme Court in the case that was argued today.


    So if we take the plaintiffs — that is, the administration and this man's lawyers — what was their basic argument today?


    OK, there were really two threads on this side. Medellin's lawyer is saying the Constitution has a supremacy clause; that clause says international treaties are the supreme law of the land. The international court's judgment here is the law of the land. The United States signed the treaty; Senate ratified it.

    The Bush administration's arguing the president decides whether to comply with treaties. He has the authority as president making foreign policy. He decided to comply; it's the law of the land.


    So it's sort of about his executive power, as far as they're concerned?


    Yes. Yes.


    And now the lawyers for Texas?