Begging The Question

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Good enough for government work
Here's all you need to know about federal habeas corpus review of state-court decisions. It comes from the transcript of the Supreme Court's oral argument in Berghuis v. Smith (available here at SCOTUSBlog).

Under the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), federal courts reviewing state-court rulings for constitutional error are supposed to grant deference to the state courts' decisions, and not throw out those holdings unless they are -- not just wrong -- an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Courts have spent about fifteen years trying to parse out the intricacies and nuances of this language. Chief Justice John Roberts hit upon a very succinct and pithy distillation in the Berghuis argument.

The case involved the proper standard a court should apply to determine whether members of a particular minority group are systematically under-represented in jury pools for criminal trials. (Here is a nice overview from SCOTUSwiki.) A fair amount of the argument revolved around various statistics, and percentages, and methods of analyzing group representation, and whether the state supreme court used the correct test for assessing the prisoner's jury claim. Justice Stephen Breyer, in sort of a roundabout way, asked the state's lawyer a question about the absolute numerical difference versus the expected sample size (or something), and basically said he didn't want to get the math wrong and "write something, like, saying 2 and 2 is 6."

Chief Justice Roberts tied this circumlocution back to the governing statute:
[I]t's not that you are going to say: 2 plus 2 is 6. I suppose, under AEDPA, all you have to do is say: 2 plus 2 is somewhere between 3 and 5, right?
And that's the bottom line in federal habeas. The state court, in ruling on someone's federal constitutional rights, can say, in essence, that "2 plus 2 is somewhere between 3 and 5," and a federal court cannot (or at least should not) overturn that decision, even when it acknowledges that 2 plus 2 is clearly 4 and the state court's didn't get that right. Now, you can debate the wisdom -- and even the constitutionality -- of that policy, and you can certainly debate how well the federal courts abide by that dictate, and you can debate whether the state court in the Berghuis case even managed to get in the right ballpark. But you'll never see a more cogent summation of the rule.

Recent Posts

  • This blog has moved
  • ThunderCats!
  • Under Construction
  • The real question: Why am I reading this?
  • If I had my way, I would tear this whole building ...
  • Good enough for government work
  • The Me Decade (for the right price)
  • Cautiously Optimistic About 2010
  • 50 Book Challenge
  • Read something I wrote somewhere else!

  • Milbarge's links

    How Appealing
    Volokh Conspiracy
    Crescat Sententia
    Sugar, Mr. Poon?
    E. McPan
    Southern Appeal
    Stay of Execution
    S.W. Va. Law Blog
    Sentencing L&P
    Begging to Differ
    Prettier Than Napoleon
    Favorable Dicta
    The Yin Blog
    De Novo
    PG: HtSoM
    Hot Librarian
    Blonde Justice
    Concurring Opinions
    Crime & Federalism
    Orin Kerr
    Is That Legal?
    Prof. Bainbridge
    Frolics & Detours
    Right Coast
    Abstract Appeal
    Clearly Erroneous
    Fresh Pepper?
    Side Salad
    The Wishbone
    Jeremy Blachman
    Naked Drinking Coffee
    Legally Blonde
    Legal Underground
    WSJ Law Blog
    The Slog
    Trivial Pusuits
    Still Angry
    Crooked Timber
    The Conglomerate
    Heldman: Ignatz
    Don't Let's Start
    Screaming Bean
    Heidi Bond
    Stag Blog
    Legal Quandary
    Divine Angst
    Things Thrown
    The Imbroglio
    Signifying Nothing
    Stuart Buck
    Legal Fiction
    Under. Robes
    NRO's Corner
    New Republic
    Election Law Blog
    Legal Theory Blog
    Legal Ethics Forum
    Ernie the Attorney
    Intel Dump
    Disability Law
    Bag & Baggage
    Between Lawyers
    Lessig Blog
    Crim Prof Blog
    White Collar Crime
    Tax Prof Blog
    Grits for Breakfast
    All Deliberate Speed
    Adventures of Chester
    College Basketball Blog
    College Football News
    Nomination Nation
    Inter Alia
    The Note
    The Onion
    RJYH: Fanopticon
    Vice Squad
    Indiana Law Blog
    Field of Schemes
    Questionable Content
    Dilbert Blog
    Toothpaste for Dinner
    Pathetic Geek Stories

    AIM: milbargebtq
    Yahoo: btqmilbarge

    Milbarge Recommends

    Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas
    Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas

    The Men Who Stare at Goats
    The Men Who Stare at Goats


    Site Feeds

    Subscribe with myFeedster
    Subscribe with Bloglines
    Subscribe with Feed Burner
    Subscribe with Blogstreet

    Web BTQ

    The views presented here are personal and in no way reflect the view of my employer. In addition, while legal issues are discussed here from time to time, what you read at BTQ is not legal advice. I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer. If you need legal advice, then go see another lawyer.

    Furthermore, I reserve (and exercise) the right to edit or delete comments without provocation or warning. And just so we're clear, the third-party comments on this blog do not represent my views, nor does the existence of a comments section imply that said comments are endorsed by me.

    Technical Stuff

    Powered by Blogger

    Weblog Commenting by

    Listed on Blogwise
    Blogarama - The Blog Directory
    Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

    < A Legally Inclined Weblog >