STEPHEN M. SHAPIRO, et al., Petitioners
DAVID J. McMANUS, JR., CHAIRMAN, MARYLAND STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS, et al
November 4, 2015.
WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE FOURTH CIRCUIT.
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).
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
Held: Section 2284 entitles petitioners to make
their case before a three-judge court. Pp. ___ - ___, 193
L.Ed.2d at 284-286.
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.
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.
B. Kimberly argued the cause for petitioners.
M. Sullivan argued the cause for respondents.
J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
S.Ct. 453] Scalia, Justice
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