Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 13 (2000)

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Cite as: 529 U. S. 473 (2000)

Opinion of the Court

nents, one directed at the underlying constitutional claims and one directed at the district court's procedural holding. Section 2253 mandates that both showings be made before the court of appeals may entertain the appeal. Each component of the 2253(c) showing is part of a threshold inquiry, and a court may find that it can dispose of the application in a fair and prompt manner if it proceeds first to resolve the issue whose answer is more apparent from the record and arguments. The recognition that the "Court will not pass upon a constitutional question although properly presented by the record, if there is also present some other ground upon which the case may be disposed of," Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring), allows and encourages the court to first resolve procedural issues. The Ashwander rule should inform the court's discretion in this regard.

In this case, Slack did not attempt to make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, instead arguing only that the District Court's procedural rulings were wrong. We will not attempt to determine whether Slack could make the required showing of constitutional error, for the issue was neither briefed nor presented below because of the view that the CPC, rather than COA, standards applied. It will be necessary to consider the matter upon any remand for further proceedings. We will, however, address the second component of the 2253(c) inquiry, whether jurists of reason could conclude that the District Court's dismissal on procedural grounds was debatable or incorrect. The issue has been discussed in the briefs presented to us; it is the question upon which we granted certiorari; and its resolution would end the case, were we to decide the matter in the State's favor.

The District Court dismissed claims Slack failed to raise in his 1991 petition based on its conclusion that Slack's 1995 petition was a second or successive habeas petition. This conclusion was wrong. A habeas petition filed in the district


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