Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214, is an act of the United States Congress signed into law on April 24, 1996. The bill was introduced by then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and passed with broad bipartisan support by Congress following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
Although controversial for its changes to the law of habeas corpus in the United States, upheld in Felker v. Turpin,, 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,
  2. designation of foreign terrorist organizations and prohibitions on funding,
  3. removal or exclusion of alien terrorists and modifications of asylum procedures,
  4. restrictions on nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons,
  5. implementation of the plastic explosives convention,
  6. changes to criminal law involving terrorist offenses, including increased penalties and criminal procedures changes,
  7. commissioning a study to determine the constitutionality of restrictions on bomb-making materials,
  8. funding changes and jurisdiction clarifications for law enforcement related to terrorism threats,
  9. and miscellaneous provisions in Title IX.

    Habeas corpus

AEDPA had a tremendous impact on the law of habeas corpus. One provision of AEDPA limits the power of federal judges to grant relief 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. Only Arizona has qualified for the additional provisions, but it has not been able to take advantage of them because it has not followed its own procedures.
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

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 US Constitution, the Suspension Clause. The Supreme Court held unanimously, in Felker v. Turpin,, 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, but it has since decided that the issue had been settled by circuit precedent.
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.


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 "thwart justice and avoid just punishment by filing frivolous appeals for years on end," while critics argue that the inability to make multiple appeals increases the risk of an innocent person being killed.
Other, more recent criticism centers on the deference that the law requires of federal judges in considering habeas petitions. In Sessoms v. Grounds, 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 fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with Court's precedents."