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The Supreme Court reverses the Sixth Circuit in yet another habeas case

In today’s other decision, the Supreme Court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in a habeas case. (For those who follow either court, that sentence almost writes itself.)

Today’s reversal came in White v. Woodall.  In this case, a death-row inmate challenged his capital sentence because the judge had failed to provide the jury with a no-adverse-inference instruction concerning the defendant’s refusal to testify during the penalty phase of his trial.  This failure, a divided panel of the Sixth Circuit concluded, violated Woodall’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The Supreme Court, 6-3, held that the trial court’s failure to provide the desired jury instruction was not objectively unreasonable or contrary to clearly established law, and therefore Woodall did not satisfy the requirements for habeas relief under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA).

Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion, joined by the Chief Justice, and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Kagan.  Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor.  The opinion is here.


Jonathan H. Adler teaches courses in constitutional, administrative, and environmental law at the Case Western University School of Law, where he is the inaugural Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation.

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