Gonzalez concerned two issues: whether certain requirements about the content of a COA were jurisdictional and when the time period began to run for the one-year statute of limitations when petitioner did not seek review from the highest state court from which review was possible. Both issues are pretty dull.
Sotomayor wrote the opinion and concluded that the content requirements were not jurisdictional. The only jurisdictional requirement of a COA is that a court must issue one. It's the obvious result. As I explained before, the entire issue was laughable. Truly. Eight judges agreed.
For some reason, Scalia dissented. I mean, I read his dissent. And he certainly believes that the contents of the COA should be jurisdictional from his take on the statute and the Court's past jurisdictional jurisprudence. But it's certainly not a better reading of the statute or the prior cases. And from a practical point of view, it's pretty absurd. And Sotomayor said why, but not directly enough -- it is a court that issues the COA. When a court messes something up in an order, a court typically has the power to fix it. We saw the Second Circuit do that recently with respect to a deficient COA. Just send it back to the issuing judge to fix it. It is ridiculous -- truly -- to think that either a federal district court judge or a circuit court judge can deprive the federal courts of jurisdiction based on a mistake that a federal judge made in a COA order. This whole thing was such a waste of the Court's resources.
As for the other issue, the Court reads the language of the statute literally and says that the limitations period begins to run when the time to seek discretionary review in the highest available court expires. It's the obvious result. But the situation in Gonzalez is not that simple. Petitioner had argued that the time should run from when the intermediate appellate court issued its mandate, which starts the clock to run in state court as to when the petitioner can file a state habeas corpus petition. So the mandate has significance in state court. But the habeas statute really doesn't contemplate such procedural subtleties. Sotomayor suggests that, if a mandate is being overly delayed, the petitioner should file his habeas petition in federal court and ask for a stay. I don't think that's a particularly credible option. But now that it has been suggested by the Supreme Court, hopefully federal courts will follow it and allow stays in situations where the state courts have more compicated procedural rules that may interfere with a literal application of the one-year time requirements.
Turning to Smith, it's a nice little decision. As SCOTUSblog noted, it's power is in its brevity. It's an obvious Brady violation that must result in the reversal of the conviction. It's just shocking that it had to get all the way up to the Supreme Court for that to happen.
For some reason, Thomas dissented. I read his dissent. He is fundamentally wrong. It is simply ludicrous to think that the defendant here did not meet the Brady standard -- this was suppressed, favorable impeachment evidence of the main witness against the defendant.
And here is where Thomas's silence at oral argument has an impact. From all media reports, this was a brutal oral argument for the State. From what I remember, Kagan asked the State's attorney whether they had thought about conceding. That's extreme. And from what I remember, no judge spoke up in defense of the state court's decision. So the story here was that the State really didn't have a leg to stand on and their fight to uphold this conviction was nearly in bad faith. At the very least, in severe bad taste.
Of course, Thomas remained silent. No questions of the defendant's attorney about why the conviction should be considered reliable. No helpful questions for the State seeking to explain to the world, under intense media scrutiny, as to why the criminal justice system should accept a criminal convicion under these circumstances.
And then he issued a dissenting opinion. How can anybody who is paying attention see that as credible? It's why oral argument matters, at least in the Supreme Court. It's really a time for the world to get a visual and oral picture of what's going on in this case. The world got to see that this conviction stinks. If Thomas wanted to get the world to see it his way, he should have tried to make that case at oral argument when at least one crucial chapter of the story gets written. Now, nobody who is paying attention is going to agree with him. They saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears that there was something egregiously wrong here.