Change in the Availability of Federal Habeas Corpus: Its Significance for State Prisoners and State Correctional Programs

Expressions of dissatisfaction with state prisoner use of federal writs of habeas corpus continue. Recently Attorney General Meese was reported as telling the Judicial Conference of the Seventh Circuit: “[M]ost of the writs filed today were frivolous ‘recreational activities’ [by inmates whom he referred to as ‘lawyers in penitentiaries’] designed to harass federal authorities.” Referring to the Reagan administration’s proposal pending in the United States Senate to restrict habeas corpus, Mr. Meese said the bill “would preserve the great writ for appropriate cases.”

Repeated, but as yet unsuccessful, efforts have been made in the Congress to narrow the scope of federal habeas corpus review of state court criminal convictions. The circumstances in which habeas corpus is available to state prisoners have also been the subject of an increasing number of decisions of the United States Supreme Court, and, over the past several decades, the subject of voluminous law review literature.