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AEDPA, Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Antiterrorism, Habeas corpus


Criminal Law | National Security Law


On April 24, 1996, President Clinton signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Thus, the AEDPA era began. While Clinton's presidential signing statement paid lip service to meaningful federal court review of state court convictions, AEDPA's supporters knew better. The fix was in, and happy habeas days were here again. But, as the old saying goes, "What if you gave a revolution and nobody came?" As I will argue, that is in many (but not all) respects what happened. In this Article, I have argued that AEDPA was, in many respects, more "hype" than "bite." For the most part this is true because by the time AEDPA's habeas "reform" measures were enacted, there was very little habeas left. Beginning in the 1970s, a conservative Supreme Court systematically limited the scope of the writ by erecting procedural barriers that made it difficult for state court inmates to thread the habeas needle. Thus, AEDPA may not have been too little, but it was too late.

Publication Citation

Published in: Cornell Law Review, vol. 91, no. 2 (January 2006).