December 14, 2015
On December 8, 2015, the Supreme Court decided Shapiro v. McManus. In this case several Maryland citizens sued state election officials claiming that a 2011 redistricting plan violated their rights to political association and equal representation under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Although federal law normally requires such claims to be heard by a three-judge federal court, a single judge dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether a single-judge federal district court may determine that a claim governed by the Three-Judge Court Act is insubstantial, and that three judges therefore are not required--not because it concludes that the complaint is wholly frivolous, but because it concludes that the complaint fails to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
By a vote of 9-0, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Fourth Circuit and remanded the case. Justice Scalia delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court, holding that the citizens’ redistricting challenge was not so insubstantial that it could be dismissed by a single judge, and should have been considered by a three-judge Court.
To discuss the case, we have Michael T. Morley, who is Assistant Professor at Barry University School of Law.