Redistricting

In Shapiro v. McManus the Supreme Court held unanimously that a three-judge court must be convened to decide a constitutional challenge to a redistricting plan even if the judge to which the request was made doesn’t think the challenger will win.  

Stephen Shapiro, dissatisfied with Maryland’s “crazy-quilt gerrymandering,” sued Maryland arguing its congressional redistricting plan violated his First Amendment right of political association. While a plurality of the Supreme Court stated in Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004) that political gerrymandering cases cannot be brought under the Equal Protection Clause, Justice Kennedy, concurring in the same case, suggested such claims may be possible under the First Amendment.  

When the Virginia legislature redrew congressional voting districts following the 2010 census it increased the number of minority voters in District 3, the state’s only majority-minority district, from 53.1 to 56.3 percent.

The plan was challenged before a three-judge federal district court in Virginia. Plaintiffs argued that the plan unconstitutionally packed minority voters into District 3 thus diluting their ability to influence races in other districts.

While it would be hard to top the Supreme Court’s last term the October 2015 term is one to watch not just because the Court has accepted numerous cases on controversial topics. Adding to the intrigue, many of the Court’s decisions this term are likely to be discussed by the 2016 Presidential candidates as the election heats up, including a number of cases affecting the states. Here is a preview of the most significant cases for the states that the Court has agreed to decide so far. 

In 5-4 decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission the Court held that the Constitution’s Elections Clause permits voters to vest congressional redistricting authority entirely in an independent commission.   

In 2000 Arizona voters adopted Proposition 106 which places all federal redistricting authority in an independent commission. The Elections Clause states:  "[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations . . . .”

Federal law (the Three-Judge Act) requires three-judge panels to decide constitutional challenges to congressional and legislative redistricting. But the single judge to whom the request for a three-judge panel is made may determine that three judges are not required to decide the case.   

The question on Shapiro v. Mack is whether a single judge may decide that a three-judge panel is not required because the complaint fails to state a claim under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, not because the complaint is frivolous.

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