Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 4 (2000)

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Cite as: 529 U. S. 362 (2000)


ently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may grant relief if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case. Pp. 402-409.

(b) In defining what qualifies as an "unreasonable application of . . . clearly established Federal law," the Fourth Circuit erred in holding that a state-court decision involves such an application only if the state court has applied federal law in a manner that reasonable jurists would all agree is unreasonable. That standard would tend to mislead federal habeas courts by focusing on a subjective inquiry. Rather, the federal court should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable. Cf. Wright v. West, 505 U. S. 277, 304. Although difficult to define, "unreasonable" is a common legal term familiar to federal judges. For present purposes, the most important point is that an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law. See, e. g., id., at 305. Because Congress specifically used the word "unreasonable," and not a term like "erroneous" or "incorrect," a federal habeas court may not grant relief simply because it concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable. Finally, the phrase "clearly established Federal law, as determined by [this] Court" refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of this Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision. In this respect, the quoted phrase bears only a slight connection to this Court's jurisprudence under Teague v. Lane, 489 U. S. 288. Whatever would qualify as an "old rule" under Teague will constitute "clearly established Federal law, as determined by [this] Court," see, e. g., Stringer v. Black, 503 U. S. 222, 228, but with one caveat: Section 2254(d)(1) restricts the source of clearly established law to this Court's jurisprudence. Pp. 409-413.

Stevens, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III, and IV, in which O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II and V, in which Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Part II (except as to the footnote), in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Kennedy and Thomas, JJ., joined, and in which Scalia, J., joined, except as to the footnote, and an opinion concurring in part and


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