On Thursday, Texas is scheduled to execute its seventh prisoner this year. While anti-death penalty advocates have rallied against all the executions, this particular case has also drawn protests from former judges and diplomats, the UN, and the Obama administration — not out of opposition to capital punishment, but concern for America’s place in the international community. As Thursday draws nearer, mounting pressure on Texas to stay the execution underscores both the U.S.’s global isolation in its commitment to the death penalty and the highly charged domestic politics of navigating international law.
Humberto Leal Garcia, Jr. is a Mexican citizen who was sentenced to death by a Texas jury in 1994 for rape and murder. Texas provided Garcia with court-appointed lawyers, but at no point during his arrest or trial did the state inform him of his right to contact the Mexican consulate, which could have provided him legal aid. This right is guaranteed by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed by the U.S., Mexico, and 171 other nations. In its treatment of Garcia, Texas was in violation of international law.
Whether or not Garcia’s sentencing would have been different with the help of Mexican lawyers, Texas’s decision puts the U.S. in a difficult position abroad — many worry that, if we do not respect the consular rights of foreign nationals, other countries will have less incentive to respect those of our citizens.