Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Ninth Circuit and the Writ of Habeas Corpus

Jason Mazzone

Today, the Supreme Court decided Harrington v. Richter and Premo v. Moore. In both cases, the Court reversed 8-0 (with Justice Kagan recused) the Ninth Circuit's grant of a writ of habeas corpus. Justice Kennedy authored the opinion for the Court in both cases. And in both cases, the Court is highly critical of the Ninth Circuit's decision granting the habeas petitioner relief.

Justice Kennedy's opinion in Harrington (joined in full by every Justice except Justice Ginsburg) begins with the strongest rebuke of a lower court's habeas ruling to be found in any Supreme Court case:
The writ of habeas corpus stands as a safeguard against imprisonment of those held in violation of the law. Judges must be vigilant and independent in reviewing petitions for the writ, a commitment that entails substantial judicial resources. Those resources are diminished and misspent, however, and confidence in the writ and the law it vindicates undermined, if there is judicial disregard for the sound and established principles that inform its proper issuance. That judicial disregard is inherent in the opinion of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit here under review. The Court of Appeals, in disagreement with the contrary conclusions of the Supreme Court of the State of California and of a United States District Court, ordered habeas corpus relief granted to set aside the conviction of Joshua Richter, respondent here. This was clear error.
"Judicial disregard" is as close as it gets to saying the lower court flouted the law.

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