Hohn v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Sacramento County Police Department

DOCKET NO.: 96-8986
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 524 US 236 (1998)
ARGUED: Mar 03, 1998
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1998

Eileen Penner - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Jeffrey S. Sutton - Argued the cause as amicus curiae by invitation of the Court
Matthew D. Roberts - Argued the cause for the United States

Facts of the case

Arnold Hohn was convicted, among other things, of using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense. Two years after his conviction became final, the Supreme Court decided that the term "use" in 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c)(1) required active employment of the firearm. Hohn filed a pro se motion under 28 U.S.C. Section 2255 to vacate his Section 942(c)(1) conviction on the ground that the evidence presented at his trial was insufficient to prove use of a firearm. While his motion was pending before the district court, Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), which requires a Section 2255 petitioner to obtain a certificate of appealability from a circuit justice or judge before he can appeal the denial of a Section 2255 petition. 28 U.S.C. Section 2253(c)(1). The district court denied Hohn's petition and he appealed. The court of appeals treated the notice of appeal as an application for a certificate of appealability, and a three-judge panel declined to issue a certificate. Hohn then petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari to review the denial of the certificate, seeking to invoke the Court's jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Section 1254(1).


Does the Supreme Court have jurisdiction to review decisions of the courts of appeals denying applications for certificates of appealability?

Media for Hohn v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 03, 1998 in Hohn v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 96-8986, Arnold Hohn v. the United States.

Ms. Penner, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Eileen Penner:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

For the last half century this Court has been granting writs of certiorari to review erroneous refusals by the appellate courts to allow statutorily authorized and meritorious appeals.

That historical practice is fully consonant with the broad jurisdictional power conferred on this Court under the statutory certiorari provision, section 1254, and residually under the All Writs Act.

The statutory certiorari provision vests this Court with the power to review all cases in the courts of appeals over which those courts have jurisdiction regardless of the condition of those cases and irrespective of any decision that the court of appeals may have made.

This Court confirmed in--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, I think in light of House v. Mayo, I think it's very hard to argue that there is statutory certiorari jurisdiction unless we want to overrule that case.

Eileen Penner:

--I submit that Nixon v. Fitzgerald has already called into very serious question the underpinnings of the statutory certiorari decision in House.

House suggested that no case could be in the court of appeals if the certificate had been denied merely because the statute prohibited an appeal from entering the court of appeals absent a certificate.

William H. Rehnquist:

Did the Nixon case discuss the jurisdictional point at length?

Eileen Penner:

It did not, but it--

William H. Rehnquist:

Well then, our rule is that jurisdiction that has been assumed without any elaborate discussion is not really to be regarded as contradicting a prior case that did discuss jurisdiction.

Isn't that correct?

Eileen Penner:

--Mr. Chief Justice, we do not claim that Nixon v. Fitzgerald has even sub silentio overruled House v. Mayo.

Instead, we claim that it implicitly has rejected the underpinnings of House v. Mayo.

William H. Rehnquist:

But our precedents say that if jurisdiction is assumed sub silentio, without a discussion of the jurisdiction, that simply doesn't count.

Eileen Penner:

That's correct, Your Honor.

In Nixon v. Fitzgerald the Court made a decision about what section 1254 means, and that decision, its interpretation, is irreconcilable with the holding in House.

Were the Court to reaffirm the statutory certiorari decision in House, it would have very serious implications for the scope of the section 1254 power which the Court had recognized in Nixon.

If a case is, in fact, not in the court of appeals when a court of appeals dismisses for lack of jurisdiction, what is left of Nixon?

Nixon decided that a case is in the court of appeals when there is a jurisdictional--

Antonin Scalia:

Might have made a mistake.

Eileen Penner:

--We should be--

Antonin Scalia:

Especially in a case entitled United States v. Nixon, or Nixon v. Fitzgerald, and that's why we have that rule, that where we haven't thought and spoken about jurisdiction you shouldn't draw any conclusions from our entertaining of the case.

Eileen Penner:


Antonin Scalia:

I thought that's the rule.

Eileen Penner:

--The Court thought very carefully about its jurisdiction in both Nixon v. Fitzgerald and the United States v. Nixon.

I... the cases that we refer to--

John Paul Stevens:

In fact, there's much more discussion of jurisdiction in those opinions than in House v. Mayo.