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SCOTUS Passes on an AEDPA Case

The US Supreme Court today declined to take up the case of Cash v. Maxwell, No. 10-1548, a noncapital case where the Ninth Circuit granted relief to a murder convict whose claim had been found without merit by the California state courts.  The case arises out of the L.A. jailhouse informant scandal of the 1980s, and I suspect that taint was enough to convince the swing votes to take a pass.

Notorious informant and liar Sydney Storch was one of many witnesses against Bobby Joe Maxwell.  When Maxwell filed a state habeas petition, the California Supreme Court sent the case to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing.  Justice Scalia relates, "After conducting an evidentiary hearing that extended over the course of two years and included the testimony of more than 30 witnesses and the introduction of over 50 exhibits, the Superior Court issued a 34-page opinion concluding that Storch had not lied [this time] and denying the habeas petition."  Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit found that conclusion unreasonable and granted relief.

Today, the Supreme Court decided not to take up the case, with Justices Scalia and Alito dissenting and Justice Sotomayor writing an opinion supporting that decision.  She agrees with the Ninth Circuit on the merits and also notes that the case is "fact-bound," not the kind of case the Supreme Court usually takes up.

Justice Scalia notes, in frank terms, the resistance of some federal judges to the mandate of Congress to stop second-guessing state courts on close questions.  In his view, the necessity of enforcing this mandate overrides the Court's usual aversion to fact-bound cases.

It is a regrettable reality that some federal judges like to second-guess state courts. The only way this Court can ensure observance of Congress's abridgement of their habeas power is to perform the unaccustomed task of reviewing utterly fact-bound decisions that present no disputed issues of law. We have often not shrunk from that task, which we have found particularly needful with regard to decisions of the Ninth Circuit. [Citing 8 cases.]

If the 113th Congress is fully in the control of forces friendly to the law-abiding public, we should reconsider the limits on habeas corpus.  The "Friendly filter" of a colorable claim of actual innocence is a possibility to consider.

Wetzel v. Lambert is relisted again for Friday, BTW.  The Kindler case is back on the same conference.  Previous decision is here.

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