On February 20, 2013, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Johnson v. Williams. The question in this case concerned federal habeas review, which requires a certain amount of federal deference to a state court’s “adjudication on the merits.” At issue was whether a habeas petitioner's federal constitutional claim was in fact decided on the merits when the state court did not appear to address the issue in its otherwise lengthy decision.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Alito, the Court held that in such situations, there is a rebuttable presumption that the state court did in fact adjudicate the federal constitutional claim on the merits. Here, the Court concluded, the presumption had not been rebutted and the petitioner was not entitled to federal habeas relief. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined Justice Alito’s opinion. Justice Scalia issued an opinion concurring in the judgment.
To discuss the case, we have Katherine Burnett, who is a Senior Assistant Attorney General with the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia.