US Supreme Court, Medellín v. Texas: More than an Assiduous Building Inspector?

John King Gamble, Christine M. Giuliano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The US Supreme Court case of José Ernesto Medellín, Petitioner v. Texas, decided on 25 March 2008, has generally been seen as a US refusal to follow unambiguous treaty provisions. There has not been such a strong reaction to US behaviour relative to specific treaty obligations since the 1992 Alvarez-Machain case. The Supreme Court majority (six votes to three) held that ‘neither Avena nor the President’s Memorandum constitutes directly enforceable federal law’. The uncomfortable – and to many illogical – conclusion reached by the Court was that even though Avena is an ‘international law obligation on the part of the United States’, it is not binding law within the United States even in the light of an explicit presidential order. While the result may be disappointing, the case should be understood in the context of a legal system that (i) makes treaties part of ‘the supreme Law of the Land’; (ii) has developed a complicated concept of self-executing treaties; and (iii) can be hesitant to direct states (sub-national units) to follow presidential directives even on matters of foreign policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-169
Number of pages19
JournalLeiden Journal of International Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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