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AEDPA as Forum Allocation: The Textual and Structural Case for Overruling Williams v. Taylor
American Criminal Law Review  (IF3.455),  Pub Date : 2019-12-01, DOI:
Carlos M. Vázquez

In Williams v. Taylor, the Supreme Court read a section of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) to change the long-prevailing de novo standard of review of federal habeas petitions by state prisoners. In holding that Congress had denied the lower federal courts the power to grant habeas relief to prisoners in custody pursuant to wrong but reasonable state court decisions, the Court departed from the provision’s text and relied instead on its perception of a generalized congressional purpose to cut back on habeas relief and on the non-redundancy canon of statutory construction. On both scores, the minority opinion had the better argument. Moreover, both opinions overlooked legislative history strongly supporting the conclusion that Congress did not intend to change the standard of review. The case for reading the provision as requiring a departure from the well-established standard of review was thus remarkably weak.