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Hastings Law Journal

Abstract

Countless articles and judicial opinions have been devoted to the task of deciphering the scope and application of the limitations on habeas corpus relief announced in the Anti- Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Over the past ten years courts and scholars have developed an intricate framework of analysis for nearly every subsection of § 2254. The decade-long process of interpretation and commentary has been characterized by questions of statutory meaning and federalism that appear to be as irresolvable for courts as they are intriguing to academics. But in the rush to sort out the minutiae of the AEDPA, the hallmarks of our legal system—basic due process and constitutional supremacy—have been overlooked. This Article aims to re-focus the debate. The application and discussion of the AEDPA’s limitations on relief has devolved into a bitter argument over the meaning of a statute which lacks a discoverable meaning, much less an obvious or plain meaning. It is statutory esotericism or statutory obfuscation much more than it is statutory interpretation. The discussion has become so technical and specialized, not to mention politically polarized, that we are at risk of permanently overshadowing the historical and constitutional underpinnings of the Great Writ. The goal of this Article is to recast and simplify the habeas debate and achieve some much needed common ground. The thesis is simple: Where the aggregate of available state proceedings fail to provide a meaningful corrective process such that federal constitutional issues are not “fully and fairly” adjudicated, it is necessary for the federal courts to review the federal claims de novo. Deference to a procedural abyss is avoided. This modest procedural proposal is compelled by due process through a celebrated line of cases, and yet in the frenzy to interpret § 2254—in working out all of the (e)(2)s and the (d)(1)s—we have forgotten due process. It is time to return to it.

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