Commentators often fall in love with the object of their analysis and thereby lose perspective. After being immersed for so long in the minutia of a given topic, and investing so much in a particular narrative or thesis, it becomes difficult not to overstate the importance of the subject matter. In recognizing this bias with respect to Medellín v. Texas,1 I hope to avoid it. Having said that, I don't believe it's an exaggeration to call this the most intellectually interesting case of the term. It is also probably the one with the broadest implications for American jurisprudence, coming at the increasingly topical intersection of international and constitutional law.
Medellín presented the Court with a law school exam of a case, combining questions of treaty interpretation and application, federalism, separation of powers, and criminal procedure. It forced the justices to grapple with tensions between international and domestic law (and what that means for the Constitution's Supremacy Clause), federal and state government, and the president and three separate institutions: Congress, the Supreme Court, and—in what then-Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz (who argued the case) has called a “Mobius twist”—state courts. In short, this remarkable case raised issues touching on every axis of governmental structure, checks and balances, and the design of political institutions.
* Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute, and Editor-in-Chief, Cato
Supreme Court Review.
1 552 U.S. ———, 128 S. Ct. 1346 (2008). All citations styled as “Medell´ın” that do
not include the other party to the case (i.e., lower court, state, and previous Supreme
Court rulings) refer to this opinion.