The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has been one of the more divided appellate courts, particularly when it comes to habeas cases. Ideological splits on the court are common in such cases, especially so in capital cases or when claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are raised. Some judges on the Sixth Circuit are notorious for liberally granting ineffective assistance of counsel claims, while others are known for approaching any such claims with extreme skepticism. But it would be a mistake to assume that the judges on the Sixth Circuit (or any Circuit, for that matter) simply vote their ideological preferences or reflexively support or oppose certain types of claims without regard for the legal merits.
Case in point is today’s decision in Hardaway v. Robinson. Holland Hardaway was convicted of murder and given consecutive 40 to 80 year prison terms. Hardaway filed a habeas petition to challenge his conviction alleging, among other things, the ineffective assistance of counsel. Hardaway drew a fairly conservative panel — Judges Batchelder, Rogers and Kethledge. This would doom his ineffective assistance claim, right? Not in this case. In an opinion by Judge Rogers, the panel unanimously concluded that Hardaway had been denied the effective assistance of counsel, and that this violation was not cured by Hardaway’s subsequent ability to challenge his conviction in collateral state proceedings.