Shapiro v McManus

Shapiro and other Maryland voters filed suit challenging the redistricting plan for Maryland’s congressional delegation. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim instead of notifying the chief judge that a three judge panel needed to be empaneled under 28 USC 2284(a). The 4th Circuit affirmed. Resolving a circuit split, the Court unanimously reversed. It held that plain language of 2284(b)(1) requires through the use of “shall” the appointment of a three judge panel in reapportionment cases and the phrase “unless he determines a three judge panel is not required” means the judge initially assigned the case determines if it is a reapportionment case or some other case which three judge panels are required or is not that kind of case. The Court noted that a single judge cannot enter judgment on the merits under 2284(b)(3) and it would be strange to allow merit judgments to be made under 2284(b)(1). The Court also held that only complaints which are wholly frivolous deprive the district court of jurisdiction and here the underlying dismissal was for failure to state a claim not for lack of jurisdiction and Shapiro’s theory of the case was based on an opinion of Justice Kennedy which was not contradicted by any opinion of the Court.