A federal judge improperly disposed of a challenge to Maryland gerrymandering without convening a three-judge panel, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. Stephen Shapiro, O. John Benisek and Maria Pycha filed the lawsuit pro se after the Maryland Legislature set new district lines for the state’s eight congressional seats in 2011. They appealed to the Supreme Court after the Fourth Circuit summarily affirmed a federal judge’s decision to dismiss the action. The basis for their challenge hinged on Section 2284(a) of Title 28, which since 1976 has required a three-judge panel to hear any action “challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts or the apportionment of any statewide legislative body.”
Per that statute, the judge who catches the case fills one of the three seats on the panel, and he informs the district’s chief to appoint two others for the case.
Though the statute says the judge to whom the case was presented must immediately notify the chief judge of the circuit to designate the two other judges, it also contains the language “unless he determines that three judges are not required.”
State elections board officials seized on that phrase to say that the statute granted the judge here the authority to dismiss Shapiro’s challenge without beginning the procedures that would convene a three-judge panel. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and unanimously reversed Tuesday.
Full Article: Courthouse News Service.