Article: Federalism, Harm, and the Politics of Legal Garcia v. Texas

Humberto Leal Garcia savagely raped and murdered sixteen-year-old Adria Sauceda in San Antonio in the spring of 1994.[1]  A Texas jury sentenced him to death.[2]  On these facts alone, his case appears indistinguishable from the dozens of Texas capital cases that regularly receive federal court review, capable of spurring the occasional, predictable complaints about Texas justice and compelling the indignation of the capital defense bar and abolitionist community, but otherwise not especially noteworthy legally or politically.  Yet, Texas law enforcement officials investigating the murder did not allow Leal, a Mexican national who had resided in the United States since the age of two, access to the Mexican consulate pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.[3]  So when Leal sought a stay of his Texas execution from the United States Supreme Court in the summer of 2011, he created more than just a legal question for the Court’s resolution.  His case ignited a storm of controversy at multiple levels of politics—constitutional, international, and electoral.

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J. Richard Broughton: Assistant Professor of Law, University of Detroit Mercy.  In the interests of disclosure, I note that I am a former Assistant Attorney General of Texas, and my former office handled the federal court litigation on behalf of Texas against Leal.  I left the office in 2003 and did not participate in that litigation.  I then served as a lawyer in the Capital Case Unit at the United States Department of Justice, but left the DOJ in 2008 and played no role in the Leal litigation there, either.  I will refer herein to the Medellin litigation, in which I had only a very minor role while at DOJ, and, in any event, my discussion here contains only public information about that case.  I am grateful to Stacy Johnson for her excellent research assistance on this project.

[1]. Garcia v. Texas, 131 S. Ct. 2866, 2867 (2011) (per curiam).  Confusingly, the current Supreme Court Reporter’s caption refers to the petitioner as “Garcia.”  In its opinion, however, the Court refers to him as “Leal,” which is the proper reference and the one employed by the lower courts.  For accuracy here, I will cite to the Supreme Court’s opinion as “Garcia v. Texas,” but will refer to the petitioner personally as “Leal.”

[2]. Id.

[3]. Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Apr. 24, 1963, 21 U.S.T. 77, T.I.A.S. No. 6820; Garcia, 131 S. Ct. at 2867.

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