To Require Fourth Circuit to Follow Three-Judge Court Act in Maryland Gerrymandering Challenge
Judicial Watch Files Amicus Brief Asking Supreme Court
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WASHINGTON,—Judicial Watch announced today that it filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the court to affirm the Three-Judge Court Act, a law requiring three federal judges to be empaneled to hear key federal lawsuits concerning redistricting, voting rights, and other key constitutional issues. In contravention of the Three-Judge Court Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit allowed a single judge to rule on a critical Maryland gerrymandering case (Stephen M. Shapiro, et al., v. David J. McManus, Jr., Chairman, Maryland State Board of Elections, et al. (No. 14-990)). Judicial Watch filed the amicus brief on August 14, 2015.
The Three-Judge Court Act requires that three-judge panels must hear all constitutional challenges to legislative redistricting unless, according past Supreme Court rulings, a case is “obviously frivolous,” “essentially fictitious,” “wholly insubstantial,” or “obviously without merit.”
In 2013, the Fourth Circuit departed from this precedent, determining that a single judge could decide not to convene a three-judge panel if he determined the case was not “plausible.” The Fourth Circuit applied the same standard in its 2014 ruling against Shapiro and fellow plaintiffs John Benisek, and Maria Pycha.
In November 2013, Shapiro, Benisek, and Pycha sued Maryland state officials alleging that the 2011 congressional districts established by the Maryland General Assembly violated their constitutional rights. When the District Court dismissed the suit, the plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In October 2014, a single Fourth Circuit Court judge upheld the District Court ruling, denying the plaintiffs an oral hearing before a three-judge panel. In February 2015, the plaintiffs filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court which the Supreme Court granted in June 2015.
Judicial Watch has particular interest, as it represents several Maryland voters in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Maryland’s gerrymandered congressional district maps. Judicial Watch’s amicus brief argues that:
[T]he Fourth Circuit’s ruling violates the Three-Judge Court Act and will allow states to delay judicial review of gerrymandered redistricting plans that disenfranchise voters and violate the Constitution. Moreover, on June 24, 2015, Judicial Watch filed a new constitutional challenge to Maryland’s redistricting plan on behalf of several plaintiffs. See Parrott v. McManus, No. 1:15-cv-01849 (D. Md.). The plaintiffs have asked for a three-judge panel in Parrott, but no such panel has been convened yet, and a motion to dismiss is currently pending before the single judge initially assigned to the case.