Mexican Nationals to Get New U.S. Trials

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The Bush administration is asking Texas to conduct new hearings for 51 Mexicans on death row who say they were denied legal help from their consulates in violation of international law.

The International Court of Justice (search) in The Hague last year ruled that the convictions violated the 1963 Vienna Convention (search) by not providing the Mexicans with consular access. In 1969, the Senate ratified the treaty, which requires such access for Americans detained abroad and foreigners arrested in the United States.

The Supreme Court filing is an attempt by the administration to quell international criticism and comes a month before justices were to hear arguments in the case of Texas death row inmate Jose Medellin (search), who is challenging his conviction and sentence as a due process violation.

Medellin is backed in his appeal by dozens of countries, legal groups and human rights organizations, as well as former American diplomats and the European Union (search).

The filing by Acting Solicitor General Paul Clement argues that it is President Bush's decision, not the court's, to determine whether the United States should comply with international law. Nevertheless, the administration has chosen to do so in this case, states the Feb. 28 filing, which was circulated Monday by the court.

"Compliance serves to protect the interest of United States citizens abroad, promotes the effective conduct of foreign relations and underscores the United States' commitment in the international community in the rule of law," Clement wrote.

The filing states that Medellin and other Mexican nationals can now seek a fresh review in state court, which will then reconsider their claims in a way that "the president has determined is an appropriate means to fulfill this nation's treaty obligations."

Texas attorneys had argued it was too late for Medellin to bring the challenge, because he failed at his trial to file objections that the Mexican government was not told of his arrest.

Medellin was one of five gang members sentenced to death for raping and murdering Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, in Houston in 1993.

There are 118 foreigners from 32 countries on death rows in America.

The case is Medellin v. Dretke, 04-5928.