That is big news in and of itself.
However, the more interesting part of the decision is the court's discussion of what it described as an issue of first impression: "Is AEDPA’s standard of review for a claim resolved on the merits by a state court displaced when a district court conducts additional fact finding?" The court held that it did not. In other words, if the district court creates a more detailed record than the one that was present before the state court which allows for a more thorough analysis of a claim, a habeas court still must refer back to the state court decision to see whether that decision was unreasonable, even though that court did not have these extra facts. In the abstract, it's a little kooky.
It comes down to, once again, this whole de novo vs. deference stuff that I have talked about before, both here and here (a post from yesterday). The petitioner wanted the further fact finding to mean that the standard of review was inappropriate and it must be a de novo review. The district court agreed, at least partly.
But the de novo argument lost on appeal. The court stated that the language in the statute is mandatory. Any new evidence can only be used to assess whether the state court's decision was unreasonable. This is the conclusion that two other Circuit courts have reached.
The Second Circuit acknowledges that "'[i]t is impossible to ascertain how the New York state court would have decided [his] claim'" if it had had the benefit of the new testimony. So there is some dissonance here. But the court sticks with its conclusion that the standard must apply.
In the end, though, it doesn't matter to this particular petitioner since the court concluded that, even under the deferential, the trial attorney was ineffective. So I guess the petitioner won the battle and lost the war. Or maybe lost the battle and won the war. I guess it comes down to perspective on that account.