Shapiro v. McManus

PETITIONER:Stephen M. Shapiro, et al.
RESPONDENT:David J. McManus, Jr., et al.
LOCATION: United States District Court for the District of Maryland

DOCKET NO.: 14-990
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 577 US (2015)
GRANTED: Jun 08, 2015
ARGUED: Nov 04, 2015
DECIDED: Dec 08, 2015

Michael B. Kimberly – for the petitioners
Steven M. Sullivan – for the respondents

Facts of the case

In 2011, the Maryland General Assembly enacted a redistricting plan based on the results of the 2010 census. Several of the districts consisted of de-facto non-contiguous segments—discrete segments that would be wholly unconnected but for one or two narrow strips connecting the two—often with largely inconsistent demographics between the two large segments. The plaintiffs were a group of citizens who sued the Chair of the Maryland State Board of Elections (Board) and the State Administrator of the Board and argued that the new districting plan violated their rights to political association and equal representation under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The defendants moved to dismiss the suit under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which requires that a complaint be plausible on its face and enable the court to draw a reasonable inference of misconduct. The district court granted the motion to dismiss and held that the complaint did no more than imply the mere possibility of misconduct. Therefore, the case did not go before a three-judge panel, as the Three-Judge Court Act requires for cases dealing with congressional districts unless the claim is determined to be insubstantial. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal.


May a single-judge district court determine that a claim governed by the Three-Judge Court Act need not be heard by a three-judge panel, not because the claim is insubstantial, but because the complaint did not state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)?

Media for Shapiro v. McManus

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 04, 2015 in Shapiro v. McManus

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 08, 2015 in Shapiro v. McManus

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Scalia has the opinion of the Court this morning in case 14-990, Shapiro versus McManus.

Antonin Scalia:

Thank you Chief.

This case is here on certiorari to United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

To take account of the population changes shown by the 2010 census, Maryland enacted a statute in October 2011 establishing new districts for the state’s eight congressional seats.

Dissatisfied with the results, petitioners here, a bipartisan group of citizens, filed suit in Federal District Court.

Their amended complaint alleges, as relevant here, that Maryland’s redistricting plan burdens their First Amendment right of political association.

§2284(a) of Title 28 provides that “A district court of three judges shall be convened when an action is filed challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts” and subsection (b)(1) of the same section provides that “upon the filing of a request for three judges, the Judge to whom the request is presented 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 on the three-judge court.

Because their action challenged the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts, petitioners requested that a three-judge district court be convened.

Rather than notifying the chief judge of the Circuit, however, the district judge to whom the request was made dismissed petitioners’ case because he thought their First Amendment claim was meritless.

Three judges were therefore not in his view “required” as the statute says, to hear the case.

The Fourth Circuit summarily affirmed in an unpublished disposition.

We now reverse.

Subsection (a) of the statute could not be clearer.

A district court of three judges shall be convened when an action is filed challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts.

We have time and again said in our opinions that the word shall is mandatory and thus creates an obligation impervious we have said to judicial discretion, just so here.

Respondents would read subsection (b)(1) to allow a district judge the discretion to determine the word of the statute that three judges are not required for an apportionment case even though subsection (a) explicitly says that they are required.

We will not read such a needless contradiction into the statutory text, rather we read subsection (b)(1) as merely clarifying that upon receiving a party’s request for three judges, the district judge need not unthinkingly comply without first examining the allegations in the complaint.

But all that the district judge must “determine” in the word of the statute in that examination is whether the request for three judges is made in a case covered by subsection (a) no more, no less.

That is he need not comply with the request where the case is not an apportionment case.

In the alternative respondents argue that petitioner’s case with properly dismissed because the First Amendment claim was insubstantial.

Our relevant precedents state of the filing of a constitutionally insubstantial claim does not trigger the three-judge court requirement.

That conclusion rests not on an interpretation of statutory text but on the familiar proposition that absent diversity of citizenship, subject matter jurisdiction will not lie where the Federal questions raised in a complaint are frivolous.

Consistent with this principle our precedents have clarified that constitutional insubstantiality for this purpose is equated with such concepts as essentially fictitious, wholly insubstantial and obviously frivolous.

Petitioner’s plea for relief easily clears this low bar, relying as it does, on a legal theory put forward by a justice of this Court in a concurring opinion, uncontradicted by his colleagues or by subsequent majority opinions.

Accordingly the district judge should not have dismissed the lawsuit.

Perhaps petitioners will ultimately fail on the merits of their claim, but §2284 entitles them to make their case before three judges rather than one.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is reversed.

The Court’s decision is unanimous.