On the morning of April 19, 1995, a massive explosion rocked the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more. On the ground days later, Clinton gave a powerful eulogy — PR events were no longer needed. It was now up to the president to keep Americans safe, not just from criminals, but from terrorists. Dropping its work on the GOP crime bill, Congress vowed to pass a new counterterrorism bill by Memorial Day. But at least one key criminal justice priority survived. On the Sunday after the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton appeared on 60 Minutes, calling for the perpetrator to be executed. The 1994 crime bill had expanded the death penalty “for purposes such as this,” he said. “If this is not a crime for which capital punishment is called, I don’t know what is.” Asked by co-host Ed Bradley how he could deliver on his promise that “justice will be certain, swift and severe,” Clinton called for speeding up death penalty appeals. “Congress has the opportunity this year to reform the habeas corpus proceedings,” he said. “And I hope that they will do so.”If it was unclear how proposals to shorten appeals for state prisoners related to federal terror cases, prosecutors nonetheless applauded Clinton’s remarks. In a letter to the White House, a bipartisan group of state attorneys general warned that failure to overhaul habeas corpus would endlessly delay justice for “such acts of senseless violence” and undermine “the expression of our level of opprobrium as a nation for acts of terrorism.”
Almost a year later, on April 24, 1996, a signing ceremony took place on the South Lawn of the White House. “In a presidential election year,” theAP reported, “it was an opportunity for a warm display of bipartisanship on a sunny, spring day.” The New York Times described “the Marine band playing and American flags whipping in the breeze.”
“We send a loud, clear message today all over the world, in your names,” the president told families in attendance whose loved ones had died in Oklahoma City. “America will never surrender to terror.” Then he signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
TWENTY YEARS LATER, AEDPA has long been eclipsed as a counterterrorism measure by the USA Patriot Act, which was built on its foundations. As crime legislation, it remains relatively unknown, even amid renewed debate over Clinton’s other policies. But for people in prison, its legacy has been sweeping and harsh. For all the rhetoric that accompanied the signing of AEDPA, it has been most severely felt by state prisoners with no connection to terrorism — and especially those who insist they are innocent.
AEDPA is most notorious for its impact on death penalty cases. “I suspect that there may well have been innocent people who were executed because of the absence of habeas corpus,” said former D.C. Circuit Judge Abner Mikva, a Clinton appointee who later served as White House counsel in 1994 and 1995. For Mikva, who turned 90 this year, his failure to stop so-called habeas reform is one of the major regrets of his career. He still recalls his time as a young law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton in the 1950s; when habeas petitions would reach his desk, Mikva said, “I saw how complicated it was for him to review these handwritten records — which is what they had at the time — and how uncertain some of the convictions were.”
But AEDPA’s reach spans much further than death row. For anyone wrongfully convicted — whether they are actually innocent or the victim of an unfair trial — the law presents a daunting barrier: a one-year countdown clock for federal review that begins the moment state-level appeals have run out. For New York exoneree Jeff Deskovic, who was in prison when AEDPA passed, the new law “filled me with terror.” Deskovic had given a false confession as a teenager to the rape and murder of a classmate following hours of punishing police interrogation in 1989. He was sentenced to life.
Read this excellent, original article – Source: The Inside Story of How Bill Clinton Sacrificed Prisoners’ Rights for Political Gain