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June 24, 2019

Supreme Court grants cert on AEPDA rules limiting habeas petitions

The Supreme Court this morning via this order list granted cert on a number of cases, one of which, Banister v. Davis, 18-6943, concerns federal habeas procedures.  Here is how the grant appears on the order list:

The motion of petitioner for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted, and the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted limited to the following question: Whether and under what circumstances a timely Rule 59(e) motion should be recharacterized as a second or successive habeas petition under Gonzalez v. Crosby, 545 U.S. 524 (2005).

June 24, 2019 at 09:55 AM | Permalink


Reading the pleadings and appendix, it looks like the reason that the Fifth Circuit treated the Rule 59 motion as a successive petition was because it "merely attacked the merits of the district court's reasoning" in denying inmate's petition. While that might make the Rule 59 motion meritless, it seems a stretch to treat such a motion as if it were a successive petition. In my experience, it is not unusual to find a district court order critiquing a Rule 59 motion for merely repeating the arguments made earlier in the case even when the Rule 59 motion is filed by competent counsel. Expecting an inmate to draft a well-reasoned Rule 59 motion that fully complies with the requirements of that Rule is probably asking too much.

I would expect the Supreme Court to make a distinction between a Rule 59 motion that actually asks for the district court to reconsider its rulings and one that actually seeks to raise a new claim. For the former, the motion -- even if meritless or poorly written -- is a proper Rule 59 motion that extends the time for filing an appeal. If the motion is limited to raising a new claim, it is treated as a successive petition. (Mixed motions would be treated as proper with the additional claims struck.)

Posted by: tmm | Jun 24, 2019 11:43:57 AM

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