Cite as: 536 U. S. 214 (2002)
Opinion of the Court
either by a new petition for habeas corpus or, preferably, by a petition for hearing." In re Reed, supra, at 918, n. 2, 663 P. 2d, at 216, n. 2 (emphasis added). Unlike States such as, say, Idaho, see In re Barlow, supra, the original writ in California is not "extraordinary"—it is interchangeable with the petition for hearing, with neither option bringing adverse consequences to the petitioner. Consequently, we treat California both as similar to other States (in that its "original writ" system functions like the "appeal" systems of those other States), and differently from other States (in that the rule we apply to original writs in California does not apply to original writs in other States, precisely because original writs in California function like appeals). And of course, as we have said, California remains free, through legislative or judicial action, to adjust its "original writ" system accordingly.
It remains to ask whether Saffold delayed "unreasonably" in seeking California Supreme Court review. If so, his application would no longer have been "pending" during this period. Saffold filed his petition for review in the California Supreme Court 41/2 months after the California Court of Appeal issued its decision. The Ninth Circuit held that this filing was nonetheless timely. It based its conclusion primarily upon the fact that the California Supreme Court wrote that it denied the petition "on the merits and for lack of diligence." These first three words, the Ninth Circuit suggested, showed that the California Supreme Court could not have considered the petition too late, for, if so, why would it have considered the merits? 250 F. 3d, at 1267.
There are many plausible answers to this question. A court will sometimes address the merits of a claim that it believes was presented in an untimely way: for instance, where the merits present no difficult issue; where the court wants to give a reviewing court alternative grounds for deci-
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