Bench Memos

Supreme Court Slams Sixth Circuit Panel

In a unanimous per curiam opinion today in Parker v. Matthews, the Supreme Court summarily reversed a Sixth Circuit panel ruling that had granted habeas relief to a petitioner who had been convicted and sentenced to death for two murders committed in 1981. As the Court sums it up, in “a textbook example of what the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) proscribes,” the Sixth Circuit panel “set aside two 29-year-old murder convictions based on the flimsiest of rationales.”

Among the panel’s errors, the Court observes, was the “plain and repetitive error” of “consulting its own precedents, rather than those of this Court, in assessing the reasonableness of the [state-court] decision”—the “identical error by the Sixth Circuit” that the Court had corrected a mere “two Terms ago,” six months before the panel’s ruling.

Judges on the left half of a polarized Sixth Circuit have been notoriously lawless in habeas cases. (I’ve used the title of this post before.) Special recognition for the mischief below goes to Clinton appointees Eric L. Clay, who authored the opinion, and Karen Nelson Moore, who joined it. (Bush 41 appointee Eugene Siler dissented.)

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