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1L Student Gets His Redistricting Case Heard by SCOTUS

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 04, 2015 11:15 AM

Stephen Shapiro, a 1L at American University, has successfully convinced this nation's highest court to review whether or not a lower district judge's decision to dismiss his redistricting case was proper under the applicable state and federal law -- specifically the Three-Judge Court Act. If SCOTUS rules the that the dismissal was improper, courts will review the issue of partisan gerrymandering within the context of the First Amendment.

Shapiro's case is a feather in the cap of the 55-year-old law student. He has entered a world where he typically is confused as a professor, not a student; now he may sit before the nine justices before he's even earned his J.D.

Years in the Making

It can be argued that Shapiro has painfully and lovingly cultivated this case for over the course of decades. He previously was a full time federal employee but left to attend law school -- partly driven by his frustration over Maryland's "Rorschach-like eyesore" Congressional District 3. It has been called one of the nation's worst examples of partisan gerrymandering. This issue is at the heart of Shapiro v. McManus.

Shapiro wrote the original complaint himself as well as the subsequent appeal after losing in the lower court. With the help of Michael Kimberly, a co-director of the Yale Law School's Supreme Court Clinic, Shapiro is arguing in court that his case should move forward despite U.S. District Judge Bredar's dismissal of his case. Bredar acknowledged that Shapiro's brief was well written, but cited SCOTUS precedent and directed Shapiro to take his fight with the state of Maryland -- or Congress.

First Amendment

SCOTUS has tackled this issue before. Justice Antonin Scalia conceded in a case called Vieth v. Jubelireri that partisan redistricting could abused to the point of violating equal protection; but concluded that courts would ultimateley always fail at creating a line that would decide definitively if stae legislatures had crossed the line of violating equal representation or not. In the mind of Scalia, Vieth just reaches that line that makes gerrymandering a political question and not an issue appropriate for the courts.

Best of luck to Mr. Shapiro in pushing his issue forward.

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