WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Thursday refused to stop Texas from executing a Mexican citizen convicted of raping and killing a 16-year-old girl despite calls from the Obama administration to halt the execution to avoid international complications.
The high court voted 5-4 to allow state officials to move forward with the execution of Humberto Leal for the murder of Adria Sauceda.
Warning of dire international consequences, the Justice Department wanted the court to delay Leal's Thursday execution to give Congress an opportunity to pass legislation that would have given Leal another chance for lower court review.
But the court's majority called that argument meritless.
"We are doubtful that it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of unenacted legislation," the court said. "Our task is to rule on what the law is, not what it might eventually be."
The 38-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, was not told he could contact the Mexican consulate after his arrest. His lawyers say police violated an international treaty by not telling him.
The Obama administration and others wanted the high court to delay Leal's execution so Congress could consider a law that would require court reviews in cases in which condemned foreign citizens did not receive help from their consulates. They said the case could affect not only foreigners in the U.S. but Americans detained in other countries.
But the court's majority, composed of its five more conservative justices, was skeptical of the Obama administration's argument that executing Leal would cause grave international consequences.
"Congress evidently did not find these consequences sufficiently grave to prompt its enactment of implementing legislation, and we will follow the law as written by Congress," the court's majority said.
The court's four liberal-leaning justices — Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — said they would have granted the stay.
"In reaching its contrary conclusion, the court ignores the appeal of the president in a matter related to foreign affairs, it substitutes its own views about the likelihood of congressional action for the views of executive branch officials who have consulted with members of Congress, and it denies the request by four members of the court to delay the execution until the court can discuss the matter at conference in September," Breyer wrote for the dissenters. "In my view, the court is wrong in each respect."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed disappointment with the court's decision. "Americans detained overseas rely on their access to U.S. consulates every day," Leahy said. "If we expect other countries to abide by the treaties they join, the United States must also honor its obligations." He said he would continue working to pass legislation "to ensure that the United States is meeting its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations."