Cornell Law Review Volume 91 Issue 2

AEDPA: The “Hype” and the “Bite”

On April 24, 1996, President Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Thus, the AEDPA era began. While Clinton’s presidential signing statement paid lip service to meaningful federal court review of state court convictions, AEDPA’s supporters knew better. The fix was in, and happy habeas days were here again. Gone were the years of waiting to carry out executions; AEDPA’s “opt-in” provisions with the short statute of limitations, expedited timetable for federal review, and other procedural “fixes”‘ would eliminate the interminable delays and fast-track death. Also gone were the days of a lone federal judge or panel of judges routinely finding constitutional defects in state court convictions. For all practical purposes, this overturning of the state court apple cart would be eliminated by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), colloquially referred to as the deference provision. With its requirement that the great writ of habeas corpus could only be issued if a federal judge determined the state court decision was “contrary to” or an “unreasonable application” of Supreme Court precedent, AEDPA’s supporters believed that they had firmly bound the Article III hands. Although AEDPA’s habeas “reform” provisions made a number of other modifications to habeas corpus practice and procedure, a few of which will be discussed later in this Article, the opt-in sections and § 2254(d) were the centerpieces of the new habeas revolution.


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