Stewart v. Smith, 536 U.S. 856, 5 (2002) (per curiam)

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Per Curiam

merits of the claim, i. e., whether the right was actually violated. They need only identify what type of claim it is, and there is no indication that this identification is based on an interpretation of what federal law requires. See Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U. S. 648, 652-653 (1979).

Our cases make clear that "when resolution of [a] state procedural law question depends on a federal constitutional ruling, the state-law prong of the court's holding is not independent of federal law, and our [direct review] jurisdiction is not precluded." Ake, supra, at 75. Even assuming that the same standard governs the scope of a district court's power to grant federal habeas relief as governs this Court's jurisdiction to review a state-court judgment on direct review, see Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U. S. 722, 729-732, 741 (1991), Rule 32.2(a)(3) determinations are independent of federal law because they do not depend upon a federal constitutional ruling on the merits. The District Court properly refused to review respondent's ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim. The Ninth Circuit erred in holding otherwise.

Even though Rule 32.2(a)(3) does not require a federal constitutional ruling on the merits, if the state court's decision rested primarily on a ruling on the merits nevertheless, its decision would not be independent of federal law. The Ninth Circuit interpreted the state court's order rejecting respondent's ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim as possibly resting on a ruling on the merits of the claim. The record, however, reveals no such ruling.

The state court did not even reach the merits of respond-ent's ineffective-assistance-of-trial-counsel claim, finding it waived because respondent had failed to raise it in prior petitions for postconviction relief. As an excuse, respondent asserted that his prior appellate and Rule 32 counsel, who were members of the Arizona Public Defender's office, had refused to file the claim because his trial counsel was also a member of the Public Defender's office. The state court did not find this excuse sufficient to overcome respondent's procedural

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