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St. John's Law Review Association




The modern law of federal habeas corpus is a labyrinth of counterfactuals and arcane procedural hurdles that few state petitioners manage to navigate-as Justice Blackmun once wrote less charitably in dissent, "a Byzantine morass of arbitrary, unnecessary, and unjustifiable impediments to the vindication of federal rights." The convoluted inquiries required arise from the need to reconcile three developments of the past four decades that remain in tension with one another: first, the Warren Court's expansion of federal habeas relief, identified with Fay v. Noia and its progeny; second, the Burger and Rehnquist Courts' curtailment of that expansion, identified with Wainwright v. Sykes, which partially overruled Fay, and Coleman v. Thompson, which fully overruled it; and third, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). AEDPA to a certain extent codified, and to another extent modified, judicial developments of the preceding four decades. By common consensus, it did a poor job in both respects. Because it "bears the influence of various bills that were fiercely debated for nearly forty years," its "arcane verbiage"" frequently generates difficult questions of statutory interpretation. Federal judges increasingly find themselves engaged in correspondingly tortuous exercises of statutory construction. Justice Souter, writing for the Court in Lindh v. Murphy captured the nucleus of the problem: "All we can say is that in a world of silk purses and pigs' ears, [AEDPA] is not a silk purse of the art of statutory drafting."'



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