The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has had quite a losing streak in the Supreme Court. For the past few years, on over twenty straight cases, the Supreme court has reversed the Sixth Circuit decision in every case in which the Court accepted cert. The lion’s share of these cases concerned grants of habeas petitions to convicted criminals in which the Supreme Court found that the Sixth Circuit had been too quick to grant relief, suggesting at least some of the Sixth Circuit’s judges are out of step with the Supreme Court on habeas questions.
Yesterday, however, the Sixth Circuit’s cold snap ended – more or less – and in a habeas case, no less. In McQuiggin v. Perkins, the Supreme Court agreed with the Sixth Circuit that the district court was wrong to reject a habeas petitioner’s claim of actual innocence made after the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations established under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). It wasn’t a resounding victory, as the Court split 5-4 (Kennedy and the liberals in the majority) and Justice Ginsburg’s opinion still found fault with Sixth Circuit’s analysis, vacated the court’s opinion, and left open the possibility that the habeas petitioner’s claim will ultimately fail. Nonetheless, for the first time in quite awhile, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in a habeas case from the Sixth Circuit and did not rule for the state.