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Oh, Never Mind

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I spoke a bit too soon yesterday in saying the U.S. Supreme Court had wrapped up its term.  Today we have an odd little one-paragraph per curiam disposition in Willams v. Johnson, 13-9085, a sequel to last year's Johnson v. Williams, 11-465.

The underlying issue has to do with a trial judge's dismissal of a juror.  As with a great many issues in criminal procedure, there are state law requirements overlaid with federal constitutional case law.  The state appellate court, in its decision rejecting the claim, did not separately discuss the federal question.  In the Ninth Circuit, the notorious Judge Stephen Reinhardt engaged in his favorite pastime of evading the habeas corpus reforms enacted by Congress in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.  Declaring that the state court had ignored the federal claim and therefore not ruled on the merits, he found himself freed from the deference shackles imposed by Congress and proceeded to decide the claim de novo, a bit of legal Latin which, in this context, means "we don't give a damn what the state court decided."  The mercurial Chief Judge Alex Kozinski went along with this, as did a district judge sitting by designation.

SCOTUS was not amused and slapped down the Ninth in yet another unanimous AEDPA reversal last year.  However, the Supreme Court committed its own error in the process.  Along with saying that the Ninth should have applied the deference standard, for reasons well explained and quite correct, the opinion contains an otherwise unexplained line that "under that standard respondent is not entitled to habeas relief."  The Court also denied a petition for rehearing.

On remand, the Ninth thought it was bound by this statement.  Today, the Supreme Court said no, go ahead and decide the case under the deference standard.  No explanation; no apology.

The Court also issued a short orders list vacating and remanding some cases in light of recent decisions and granting certiorari in some civil cases.

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The good news is that the Ninth Circuit for once felt itself bound by something SCOTUS said, even if only one poorly considered line.

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