February 10, 2011
On January 19, 2011, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Harrington v. Richter, a federal habeas case. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act or AEDPA, the availability of federal habeas relief is limited with regard to claims previously "adjudicated on the merits" in state courts. Richter raises the question of whether that provision of AEDPA applies when state court relief is denied without a statement of reasons. If AEDPA does apply, the question then becomes whether the state court’s decision was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.
In the proceedings below the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had ruled for Richter, concluding that even if AEDPA did apply, the underlying state court's denial of relief to Richter, based on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, had been unreasonable. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. Reversing the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the high court held that AEDPA did apply and that the state court’s decision was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Breyer, Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor. Justice Ginsburg filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
To discuss the case, we have D. Scott Broyles, who is an Assistant Professor at Charlotte School of Law.