Pennsylvania Law, the Sword, or the Blindfold

by Nathaniel Butler

Each day across America, experienced lawyers win and lose cases brought on appeal. To expect a person to present his own case would be analogous to telling a young uneducated person fresh off the streets he got one year to read all the history books he can, because at the end of that year he will go on stage and debate Cornell West. This young brother don’t stand a snowball chance in hell. Dig me!!!!

In (1860) a person would have been considered to be insane if he said that one day in America a person could become President of the United States regardless of their race and regardless of their gender. The law at the time not only allowed slavery, but numerous cases and numerous briefs submitted by reasonable lawyers to reasonable jurists rationalized slavery. The law at the time also prevented females from voting. Fast forward now to today. Presently, it is a fact that millions of people believe that it is totally absurd to have a law that requires United States citizens to purchase health insurance. But one vote by one reasonable jurist decided the constitutionality of this law. 

Fast forward this time to 150 years in the future. Law students studying constitutional law may be amazed to find that there was a time when marriage was narrowly defined as a union between a man and a woman. Prior to the passage of the National Health Care Act the term “individual mandate” was not part of our national vocabulary. Prior to the enactment of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) on April 24, 1996, the term “equitable tolling,” “statute of limitations” and “time bar” were not part of our habeas corpus vocabulary. The point is the relative nature and the changing nature of the law brings about the emergence of new vocabulary that takes on its own newly acquired level of importance. 

In reference to habeas corpus actions, this newly emerged vocabulary with its newly acquired level of importance must not be allowed to obscure the real issue before the courts:

“What to do with Lifers.” The writ of habeas corpus has existed before the United States became a country and has its roots in English common law. Prior to the Burger and Rehnquist court eras (which were followed by the AEDPA in 1996), state inmates during the Warren Court era and before faced very few procedural limits in bringing habeas corpus petitions.

A prisoner could file just about any time provided the government couldn’t make the difficult showing that the petitioner had purposely abused the process to gain an unfair advantage over the state. In spite of the many hurdles that now confront (us) the very nature of the habeas corpus at its core is still designed to be a safeguard against wrongful imprisonment.

In the same way that during the (1860s) it was inconceivable to think that one day anyone could become President of the United States, during the 1960s, when habeas corpus opinions were written by individual rights advocates like Justices Warren, Douglas, Black, Marshall, and Brennan, it was inconceivable to think that one day a one-year time limitation would be imposed upon poor state prisoners who wanted to file habeas corpus petitions. In the same way that a short while ago it was inconceivable to think that a law requiring citizens to purchase health insurance would be found to be constitutional, it was at one time inconceivable to think that a time bar would be imposed upon prisoners wanting to bring a constitutional challenge to their convictions or sentences.

In the same way that it was once inconceivable to think that people of the same sex could be married. 

Mr. Nathaniel Butler #BQ-0913

P.O. Box 200

S.C.I. Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. 17001-0200