Welch v United States

Welch sought habeas relief form his career criminal sentence. While his application was pending on appeal, the Court held the residual clause of the career criminal statute unconstitutional. The 11th Circuit declined to apply that ruling in Welch’s case and denied his application for a certificate of appealablity. The Court, 7-1, reversed. The majority held the residual clause case announced a substantive rule as it narrowed the class of persons that could be sentenced as career criminals and did not change the procedures for deterring who the statute applies to. The majority rejected appointed amicus counsel’s arguments to the contrary holding that the correct approach is to focus on the rule announced not on whether the basis of the rule is a procedural or substantive and that statutory construction cases are not per se outside the retroactivity framework. The majority this concluded reasonable jurists could dispute whether the residual clause decision applies retroactively and the certificate of appealablity should have been granted. Thomas dissented arguing that welch never raised the residual clause issue in his habeas case in the district court and the residual clause decision was not substantive for retroactivity purposes as it did not announce  a new limitation on conduct a state or the federal government can criminalize and does not narrow the career criminal statute. He also argued that the Court’s retroactivity doctrine has become unmoored from the limiting principals announced when the doctrine was adopted and every case now a new beginning in formulating new rules not application of settled law.