Will the 9th Cir. Be Chastised Once More?

To fellow federal habeas fans:

It’s no secret that the Ninth Circuit tends to be chastised by the Supreme Court when it grants habeas relief. Well, you’ll probably want to check out this petition for certiorari: Cavazos v. Williams

First, read the lower court opinion! It starts with a quote of Twelve Angry Men. How can you beat that??

To summarize what’s going on this case, here are the basics. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has once again granted a writ of habeas corpus to a prisoner. Here, the court avoided § 2254(d)(1) deference by finding that the California Court of Appeal did not “adjudicate on the merits” any Sixth Amendment claim. From there, the court reviewed the constitutional violation claim de novo and granted relief. California of course is unhappy about this and argues that the Ninth Circuit got it wrong.

What I’m most interested in is the § 2254(d)(1) question…though the underlying jury claim is also noteworthy. If a state court spends nearly thirty pages of an opinion conducting an analysis of state law without making any explicit analysis of federal law, can a federal court assume that there’s been no “adjudication on the merits” for § 2254(d) purposes? As the certiorari petitioner points out, the Ninth Circuit’s approach has not been widely adopted in other circuits. Some require an explicit acknowledgment by the state court that it is not making a federal-law determination.

I’ll be paying attention to this one. I haven’t decided if I want the Supreme Court to take the case or not. Too busy to write more on the matter right now. However, I suspect I may be revisiting this case in the near future.

-Zachary Cloud

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