Supreme Court Action: Convening Three-Judge Panels in Gerrymandering Cases

The Supreme Court issued one opinion this morning.  The case is Shapiro v. McManus (14-990).  Petitioners in this case challenged the constitutionality of Maryland’s congressional apportionment map under First Amendment/Freedom of Associations grounds.  They gave the District Judge a petition to convene a three-judge court to hear the matter.  28 U.S.C. §2284(a) states that when this type of lawsuit is filed and the judge is presented with a petition a three-judge court to hear the matter, the judge shall notify the chief judge of the Circuit who shall designate two other judges to serve on the panel.

The statute contains one qualification: “unless he determines that three judges are not required.”  The District Judge in this case decided that three judges were not required as he did not believe any relief was available to the petitioners in that they were free to join with others to express a political opinion.  Rather than notifying the Chief Judge, he dismissed the case.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed in an unpublished opinion.

The Supreme Court reversed.  The Court stated that the statute is written in mandatory terms.  The only discretion the Judge has when presented with a petition for a three-judge panel is analyzing whether the parties properly belong in federal court, not whether the plaintiff’s case has any merit.  The petitioner’s claims clears the bar for jurisdiction.  The petitioner’s claims may or may not have merit, but they are entitled to a hearing before a three-judge court under the statute.  Justice Scalia delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Mark

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