February 20, 2008

The Supreme Court has decided an important case about the meaning of constitutional rights and federalism.

Danforth v. Minnesota is about whether state courts, when they apply "new" rules of federal constitutional law, must also follow the federal law about the retroactive effect of those rights. This is an application of the Teague doctrine: When a state court conviction has become final, federal courts may review it in a habeas case, but for the most part, it will suffice if the state court applied the federal constitutional law that the U.S. Supreme Court had articulated at the time. That means that if there are Supreme Court cases that came out after the conviction became final, unless an exception applies, there will be no habeas relief in federal court. But what if the post-conviction litigation takes place in state court? Why can't the state follow its own law about whether there should be a new trial that meets the standards set in the new Supreme Court case?

In my old posts — here and here — I said I thought that originalism and federalism justified allowing the state court to function independently.

In today's opinion the majority recognizes the state courts' power to use state law to give more retroactive effect to federal constitutional rights. Justice Stevens writes the opinion:
It is... abundantly clear that the Teague rule of nonretroactivity was fashioned to achieve the goals of federal habeas while minimizing federal intrusion into state criminal proceedings. It was intended to limit the authority of federal courts to overturn state convictions—not to limit a state court’s authority to grant relief for violations of new rules of constitutional law when reviewing its own State’s convictions....

[T]he States that give broader retroactive effect to this Court’s new rules of criminal procedure do not do so by misconstruing the federal Teague standard. Rather, they have developed state law to govern retroactivity in state postconviction proceedings....

A decision by this Court that a new rule does not apply retroactively under Teague does not imply that there was no right and thus no violation of that right at the time of trial—only that no remedy will be provided in federal habeas courts. It is fully consistent with a government of laws to recognize that the finality of a judgment may bar relief. It would be quite wrong to assume, however, that the question whether constitutional violations occurred in trials conducted before a certain date depends on how much time was required to complete the appellate process.
This all seems so crashingly correct to me — and let me say that I've been teaching Federal Courts for more than 20 years — that I'm puzzled to see that Chief Justice Roberts has dissented. But I can't write more about this now. I will have to update this a little later.

15 comments:

Bob said...

Feudalism? Since when does the Supreme Court rule on feudalism? Eh? Oh.

Sorry.

MadisonMan said...

Is the Chief Justice thus for a strong Federal Court? At the cost of what any state may say?

(IANAL)

Scrutineer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scrutineer said...

Since Scalia voted with the majority, does that mean he turned out not to be the originalist hypocrite you warned us about?

Cabbage said...

Tony is in dissent!

I love when Tony has to be in dissent. There is a little extra nugget goodness in that he's on the losing side where he voted to keep more power in his swinging hands.

Ok, maybe only indirectly. but you can't blame me for getting annoyed with the guy form time to time.

Jon said...

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this pretty much kill the last decent argument that AEDPA opponents had about the act's constitutionality?

Simon said...

Jon, this case doesn't have anything to do with AEDPA.

Jon said...

Are you sure, Simon? If the Court had interpreted Teague the other way, wouldn't there be a decent argument that Congress crossed over into Article III territory with AEDPA?

Mr. B. said...

Please do amplify - before I post a link. The last run through was good and got a lot of attention.

Mr. B.

Chris said...

p. 25: "...the Supremacy Clause in Article V of the Federal Constitution..."

madawaskan said...

This is Javitz @ Wizbang-
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States Are Permitted Retroactively to Apply New Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled 7-2 that state courts err if they categorically refuse to consider the retroactive application of new Supreme Court pronoucements on criminal procedure in connection with state habeas corpus filings. Although state courts are not required retroactively to apply new federal Constitutional rules to state post-conviction proceedings, they are not prohibited under federal law from doing so.

Is that cryptic enough for you?

In other words, let's suppose at John Doe's state court trial a videotaped statement from his accuser was introduced into evidence. Doe gets convicted. A few years later, after Doe has exhausted his state court appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court determines in a different but analogous case that a videotaped statement from the accuser improperly was admitted into evidence and that doing so violated the accused's federal Constitutional right of effective cross-examination. The Supreme Court's ruling is "new," in that it announces a precedent not already on the books. Doe then files a state habeas corpus petition and argues that new rule of criminal procedure means his own finalized conviction is not valid and he argues for a new trial.

A state court is not required to give him a new trial. By the same token, however, it cannot categorically refuse to do so without considering whether or not state law dictates the new federal rule should retroactively be applied.

****************************************

*ugh* I'm not quite getting this-

Does the state have to have a pre-existing state law in order to open the case up?

Or can they just use the federal law to re-open the case?

madawaskan said...

Wait - basically they can do whatever they want unless a state rule tells them otherwise?

madawaskan said...

Nevermind I think I got it.

I had to wrestle myself out of my own dyslexia..

It seems like a narrow majority opinion-pretty confined.

Enough for seven to get on board...

madawaskan said...

I'm down here talking to myself but the damn thing doesn't say that the state can't write a new law-to conform with the newer Supreme Court decision.

JohnTaylor88 said...

Roberts thinks that Stevens is trying to say retroactivity is inherently remedial, which distorts the precedents. The precedents say that retroactivity is not a remedy, but has remedial effects. Retroactivity is a principle whose application controlled by courts and thus judges. It is not a remedy correlated with any distinct, discrete, and articuable right in the same way the exclusionary rule correlates to your right against unlawful search and seizure.