Vanderbilt Law Review


Evan T. Lee

First Page



The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 made wholesale changes to the federal habeas corpus statute. In particular, the statute contains a new section 2254(d), which controls the standards that federal habeas courts must employ when reviewing state convictions. This new provision governing the standards of review applies generally to petitions filed after April 24, 1996, the effective date of the Act. The provision's text, however, is critically ambiguous in several respects. Because most of the federal circuit courts of appeal have not yet settled even basic interpretive questions about section 2254(d), federal district courts and circuit panels are often writing on a clean slate. In this Article, Professor Lee systematically offers interpretive suggestions to federal judges construing section 2254(d) for the first time. Specifically, Professor Lee proposes answers to the following questions: (1) Whether different standards apply to pure legal questions versus mixed questions of law and fact; (2) what test should be used to determine what state court applications of law to fact are "unreasonable;" (3) what test should be used to ascertain when federal law is "clearly established;" and (4) to what degree federal habeas courts may use decisions from the federal circuit courts when reviewing the constitutional infirmity of state court adjudications.

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