Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996

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Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn Act to deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes.
Acronyms (colloquial)AEDPA
Enacted bythe 104th United States Congress
EffectiveApril 24, 1996
Public lawPub.L. 104–132 (text) (PDF)
Statutes at Large110 Stat. 1214
Acts amendedImmigration and Nationality Technical Corrections Act of 1994
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 735 "Comprehensive Terrorism Prevention Act of 1995" by Bob Dole (R-KS) on April 27, 1995
  • Passed the Senate on June 7, 1995 (91–8)
  • Passed the House of Representatives on March 14, 1996 (without objection)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on April 15, 1996; agreed to by the Senate on April 17, 1996 (91–8) and by the House of Representatives on April 18, 1996 (293–133)
  • Signed into law by President Bill Clinton on April 24, 1996
Major amendments
Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act
United States Supreme Court cases

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub.L. 104–132 (text) (PDF), 110 Stat. 1214, enacted April 24, 1996, was introduced to the United States Congress in April 1995 as a Senate Bill (S. 735). The bill was presented by then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and passed with broad bipartisan support by Congress (91–8 in the US Senate, 293–133 in the U.S. House of Representatives) following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.[1][2]

Although controversial for its changes to the law of habeas corpus in the United States (Title I), upheld in Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651 (1997), it also contained a number of provisions to "deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes," in the words of the bill summary.


  1. providing restitution/assistance for victims of terrorism (Title II),
  2. designation of foreign terrorist organizations and prohibitions on funding (Title III),
  3. removal or exclusion of alien terrorists and modifications of asylum procedures (Title IV),
  4. restrictions on nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons (Title V),
  5. implementation of the plastic explosives convention (Title VI),
  6. changes to criminal law involving terrorist (or explosives) offenses, including increased penalties and criminal procedures changes (Title VII),
  7. commissioning a study to determine the constitutionality of restrictions on bomb-making materials (Title VII - A - Sec. 709),
  8. funding changes and jurisdiction clarifications for law enforcement related to terrorism threats (Title VIII),
  9. and miscellaneous provisions in Title IX.

Habeas corpus[edit]

AEDPA had a significant impact on the law of habeas corpus.[3] One provision of AEDPA limits the power of federal courts to grant habeas corpus relief to state prisoners, unless the state court's adjudication of the claim resulted in a decision that was

  1. contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the US Supreme Court; or
  2. based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.

In addition to the modifications that pertain to all habeas corpus cases, AEDPA enacted special review provisions for capital cases from states that enacted quality controls for the performance of counsel in the state courts in the post-conviction phase. States that enacted the quality controls would see strict time limitations enforced against their death-row inmates in federal habeas proceedings coupled with extremely deferential review to the determinations of their courts regarding issues of federal law. As of 2019, no states had successfully opted in to this provision, though Arizona and Texas had petitions pending to do so.[4]

Other provisions of AEDPA created entirely new statutory law. For example, the judicially-created abuse-of-the-writ doctrine had restricted the presentation of new claims through subsequent habeas petitions. AEDPA replaced this doctrine with an absolute bar on second or successive petitions.

Petitioners in federal habeas proceedings that have already been decided in a previous habeas petition would find the claims barred. Additionally, petitioners who had already filed a federal habeas petition were required to first secure authorization from the appropriate federal court of appeals. Furthermore, AEDPA took away from the Supreme Court the power to review a court of appeals's denial of that permission, thus placing final authority for the filing of second petitions in the hands of the federal courts of appeals.

Court cases[edit]

Soon after it was enacted, AEDPA endured a critical test in the Supreme Court. The basis of the challenge was that the provisions limiting the ability of persons to file successive habeas petitions violated Article I, Section 9, Clause 2, of the United States Constitution, the Suspension Clause. The Supreme Court held unanimously, in Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651 (1997), that the limitations did not unconstitutionally suspend the writ.

In 2005, the Ninth Circuit indicated that it was willing to consider a challenge to the constitutionality of AEDPA on separation of powers grounds under City of Boerne v. Flores and Marbury v. Madison,[5] but it has since decided that the issue had been settled by circuit precedent.[6]

Basketball player and later coach Steve Kerr and his siblings and mother sued the Iranian government under the Act for the 1984 killing of Kerr's father, Malcolm H. Kerr, in Beirut, Lebanon.[7]

On June 21, 2022, the Supreme Court reinforced in Shoop v. Twyford that the power of federal courts to grant habeas corpus is restricted by AEDPA.[8]


While the act has several titles and provisions, the majority of criticism stems from the act's tightening of habeas corpus laws. Those in favor of the bill say that the act prevents those convicted of crimes from being able to "thwart justice and avoid just punishment by filing frivolous appeals for years on end,"[9] while critics argue that the inability to make multiple appeals increases the risk of an innocent person being killed.[10][11]

Other, more recent criticism centers on the deference that the law requires of federal judges in considering habeas petitions. In Sessoms v. Grounds (Ninth Circuit), the majority of the judges believed that the state erred in not throwing out testimony made in the absence of the defendant's attorney after he had requested counsel, but they were forced to overturn his appeal. The dissenting opinion said that federal courts can only grant habeas relief if "there is no possibility fair-minded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with [the Supreme] Court's precedents".[12]

In popular culture[edit]

On March 6, 2022, in the main segment of his show Last Week Tonight called Wrongful Convictions, John Oliver advocated for the abolition of AEDPA based on how difficult it makes for convicts to appeal, by citing the cases of several wrongfully convicted individuals, most notably, Melissa Lucio (who is on death row in Texas for the murder of one of her children, which she claims was a household accident. She has been granted a stay of execution as the courts examine new evidence.).[13]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Lundin, Leigh (June 28, 2009). "Dark Justice". Criminal Brief.
  2. ^ Holland, Joshua (April 1, 2009). "A Tale of Two Justice Systems". AlterNet. Prison Legal News. Archived from the original on July 17, 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2009.
  3. ^ John H. Blume (2006). "AEDPA: The "Hype" and the "Bite"". Cornell Law Review. 91: 259–302.
  4. ^ Alejandra S. Alvarez (2019). "Habeas Mentem: Revisiting Sufficiency-of-Counsel Standards in Post-AEDPA Habeas Corpus Proceedings". Florida Law Review. 41: 1481–1512.
  5. ^ Denniston, Lyle (May 5, 2005). "Is AEDPA unconstitutional?". SCOTUSblog. Archived from the original on March 20, 2011. Retrieved April 18, 2011.
  6. ^ "Irons v. Carey". March 6, 2007. Retrieved April 18, 2011.
  7. ^ "NBA Finals' Rookie Coaches: Golden State Warriors' Steve Kerr and Cleveland Cavaliers' David Blatt". ABC News.
  8. ^ "Divided court rejects death-row prisoner's attempt to gather neurological evidence". SCOTUSblog. June 21, 2022. Retrieved June 22, 2022.
  9. ^ "Congressional Record for April 17, 1996, page S3476" (PDF). April 17, 1996. Retrieved April 25, 2011.
  10. ^ Lundin, Leigh (October 2, 2011). "The Crime of Capital Punishment". Death Penalty. Orlando: SleuthSayers.
  11. ^ Rankin, Bill; Judd, Alan (September 21, 2003). "Witnesses Recant; Law Stymies Death Row Appeal". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Archived from the original on April 23, 2010. Retrieved April 25, 2011.
  12. ^ Peacock, William (September 24, 2014). "5 Judges Issue 3 Dissents From Habeas Grant to Interrogated Teen". FindLaw.
  13. ^ Wrongful Convictions: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) (Cable TV). LastWeekTonight. March 7, 2022. Event occurs at 14 min. Retrieved March 7, 2022.

External links[edit]