Supreme Court to the Ninth Circuit: No, We Really Mean It

From today’s per curiam summary reversal in Cavazos v. Smith, a habeas case from the Ninth Circuit:

In light of the evidence presented at trial, the Ninth Circuit plainly erred in concluding that the jury’s verdict was irrational, let alone that it was unreasonable for the California Court of Appeal to think otherwise. See §2254(d). Doubts about whether Smith is in fact guilty are understandable. But it is not the job of this Court, and was not that of the Ninth Circuit, to decide whether the State’s theory was correct. The jury decided that question, and its decision is supported by the record.

The decision below cannot be allowed to stand. This Court vacated and remanded this judgment twice before, calling the panel’s attention to this Court’s opinions high-lighting the necessity of deference to state courts in §2254(d) habeas cases. Each time the panel persisted in its course, reinstating its judgment without seriously confronting the significance of the cases called to its attention. See Patrick v. Smith, 550 U. S. 915 (vacating and remanding in light of Carey v. Musladin, 549 U. S. 70 (2006)), reinstated on remand, 508 F.3d 1256 (2007) (per curiam); 558 U. S. ___ (2010) (vacating and remand- ing in light of McDaniel v. Brown, 558 U. S. ___ (2010) (per curiam)), reinstated on remand sub nom. Smith v. Mitchell, 624 F. 3d 1235 (2010) (per curiam). Its refusal to do so necessitates this Court’s action today.

DIn her dissent, Justice Ginsburg responds:

Is this Court’s intervention really neces­sary? Our routine practice counsels no.

Error correction is “outside the mainstream of the Court’s functions.” E. Gressman, K. Geller, S. Shapiro, T. Bishop, & E. Hartnett, Supreme Court Practice §5.12(c)(3), p. 351 (9th ed. 2007). As this Court’s Rule 10 informs, “[a] petition for a writ of certiorari is rarely granted when the asserted error [is] . . . the misapplication of a properly stated rule of law.” The Ninth Circuit cor­ rectly described the relevant legal rules under AEDPA and Jackson v. Virginia. This Court, therefore, has no law­ clarifying role to play.

In sum, this is a notably fact-bound case in which the Court of Appeals unquestionably stated the correct rule of law. It is thus “the type of case in which we are most inclined to deny certiorari.” Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U. S. 419, 460 (1995) (SCALIA, J., dissenting). Nevertheless, the Court is bent on rebuking the Ninth Circuit for what it conceives to be defiance of our prior remands.

For more on the panel decision, see this post from Ninth Circuit Watch.