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Yet Another Unanimous Summary Reversal on AEDPA

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Parker v. Matthews, No. 11-845, was decided today by the US Supreme Court.  This is a summary reversal, meaning the the Sixth Circuit's error is so plain that the high court did not see any need to take full briefing or hear oral argument.

In this habeas case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit set aside two 29-year-old murder convictions based on the flimsiest of rationales. The court's decision is a textbook example of what the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) proscribes: "using federal habeas corpus review as a vehicle to second-guess the reasonable decisions of state courts." Renico v. Lett, 559 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 12). We therefore grant the petition for certiorari and reverse.

The case of Howes v. Fields, 11-1011, was also sent back to the Sixth for a do-over in light of Parker.

The recurring inability or unwillingness of federal courts to observe the legal limits on their authority suggests that further limitations on federal habeas corpus for state prisoners are needed.  One possibility is the "Friendly filter" of requiring a substantial claim of actual innocence.  As this case illustrates, that needs to be "got the wrong guy" innocence, not mental defenses.

Update:  Near the end of the opinion, Parker has some useful language on the continuing error of federal courts of appeals using their own precedents to overturn the decisions of state supreme courts which have no obligation to follow those precedents.
The Sixth Circuit also erred by consulting its own precedents, rather than those of this Court, in assessing the reasonableness of the Kentucky Supreme Court's decision.
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As we explained in correcting an identical error by the Sixth Circuit two Terms ago, see Renico, 559 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 11-12), circuit precedent does not constitute"clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court," 28 U. S. C. ยง2254(d)(1). It therefore cannot form the basis for habeas relief under AEDPA. Nor can the Sixth Circuit's reliance on its own precedents be defended in this case on the ground that they merely reflect what has been "clearly established" by our cases.The highly generalized standard for evaluating claims of prosecutorial misconduct set forth in Darden bears scant resemblance to the elaborate, multistep test employed by the Sixth Circuit here.

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Note the author of the decision below, Judge Clay, a Clinton judge. Clay, IIRC, authored the Sixth Circuit's decision in Bies v. Bobby, a case which got clowned by SCOTUS. Clay is approaching Judge Richard Paez territory.

What is amazing is that in all of the coverage of the judicial wars, the actual records of these guys never seems to make the coverage. The meme is a guy like Judge Pryor is an extremist, but Judge Clay is a "Clinton moderate."

It's a meme that we should push back on.

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