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Shapiro v. McManus

United States Supreme Court

December 8, 2015

STEPHEN M. SHAPIRO, et al., Petitioners
v.
DAVID J. McMANUS, JR., CHAIRMAN, MARYLAND STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS, et al

         Argued November 4, 2015.

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT.

         Syllabus

         [136 S.Ct. 451] Since 1976, federal law has mandated that a " district court of three judges shall be convened . . . when an action is filed challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts . . . ," 28 U.S.C. § 2284(a), and has provided that " the judge [presented with a request for a three-judge court] shall, unless he determines that three judges are not required, immediately notify the chief judge of the circuit, who shall designate two other judges" to serve, § 2284(b)(1).

         [136 S.Ct. 452] Petitioners requested that a three-judge court be convened to consider their claim that Maryland's 2011 congressional redistricting plan burdens their First Amendment right of political association. Concluding that no relief could be granted for this claim, the District Judge dismissed the action instead of notifying the Chief Judge of the Circuit to convene a three-judge court. The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

          Held: Section 2284 entitles petitioners to make their case before a three-judge court. Pp. ___ - ___, 193 L.Ed.2d at 284-286.

         (a) Section 2284(a)s prescription could not be clearer. Because the present suit is indisputably " an action . . . challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts," the District Judge was required to refer the case to a three-judge court. Section 2284(a) admits of [193 L.Ed.2d 282] no exception, and " the mandatory 'shall' . . . normally creates an obligation impervious to judicial discretion." Lexecon Inc. v. Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, 523 U.S. 26, 35, 118 S.Ct. 956, 140 L.Ed.2d 62. The subsequent provision of § 2284(b)(1), that the district judge shall commence the process for appointment of a three-judge panel " unless he determines that three judges are not required," should be read not as a grant of discretion to the district judge to ignore § 2284(a), but as a compatible administrative detail requiring district judges to " determin[e]" only whether the " request for three judges" is made in a case covered by § 2284(a). This conclusion is bolstered by § 2284(b)(3)s explicit command that " [a] single judge shall not . . . enter judgment on the merits." Pp. ___ - ___, 193 L.Ed.2d at 284-285.

         (b) Respondents' alternative argument, that the District Judge should have dismissed petitioners' claim as " constitutionally insubstantial" under Goosby v. Osser, 409 U.S. 512, 93 S.Ct. 854, 35 L.Ed.2d 36, is unpersuasive. This Court has long distinguished between failing to raise a substantial federal question for jurisdictional purposes--what Goosby addressed--and failing to state a claim for relief on the merits--what the District Judge found here; only " wholly insubstantial and frivolous" claims implicate the former, Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682-683, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939. Absent such obvious frivolity, " the failure to state a proper cause of action calls for a judgment on the merits and not for a dismissal for want of jurisdiction." Id., at 682, 66 S.Ct. 773, 90 L.Ed. 939. Petitioners' plea for relief, which was based on a legal theory put forward in Justice Kennedy's concurrence in Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267, 315, 124 S.Ct. 1769, 158 L.Ed.2d 546, and uncontradicted in subsequent majority opinions, easily clears Goosby' s low bar. Pp. ___ - ___, 193 L.Ed.2d at 285-286.

584 Fed.Appx. 140, reversed and remanded.

         Michael B. Kimberly argued the cause for petitioners.

         Steven M. Sullivan argued the cause for respondents.

         Scalia, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

          OPINION

         [136 S.Ct. 453] Scalia, Justice

         We consider under what circumstances, if any, a district judge is free to " determin[e] that three judges are not required" for an action " challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional ...


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