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League of Women Voters of Michigan v. Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

December 27, 2017

RUTH JOHNSON, in her official capacity as Michigan Secretary of State, Defendant.


          Denise Page Hood Chief Judge.


         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Application for Three-Judge Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284(a). On December 22, 2017, Plaintiff League of Women Voters of Michigan, along with several named-Plaintiffs, filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief against Defendant Ruth Johnson, in her official capacity as Secretary of State for the State of Michigan.

         Plaintiffs challenge the Current Apportionment Plan because they claim their constitutional rights have been violated as alleged in the two counts in their Complaint: Count I - First Amendment and Count II - Equal Protection. Plaintiffs seek a three-judge court to be appointed under 28 U.S.C. 2284(a).


         The statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2284 provides,

(a) A district court of three judges shall be convened when otherwise required by Act of Congress, or when an action is filed challenging the constitutionality of the apportionment of congressional districts or the apportionment of any statewide legislative body.
(b) In any action required to be heard and determined by a district court of three judges under subsection (a) of this section, the composition and procedure of the court shall be as follows:
(1) Upon the filing of a request for three judges, the judge to whom the request is presented shall, unless he determines that three judges are not required, immediately notify the chief judge of the circuit, who shall designate two other judges, at least one of whom shall be a circuit judge. The judges so designated, and the judge to whom the request was presented, shall serve as members of the court to hear and determine the action or proceeding.

28 U.S.C. §§ 2284(a) and (b)(1).

         In a legislative reapportionment case, the district court must invoke the procedures established in 28 U.S.C. § 2284 for convening a three-judge panel. Armour v. The State of Ohio, 925 F.2d 987, 988 (6th Cir. 1991). “[O]nce it becomes clear that there exists a non-frivolous constitutional challenge to the apportionment of a statewide legislative body, ” the jurisdictional requirement to convene a three-judge court under § 2284(a) is met. Id. at 989. The test for “non-frivolousness” requires the district court originally assigned to the matter determine whether a substantial constitutional claim exists as a prerequisite to the convening of a three-judge court.” Id. The sufficiency of a claim is based on the allegations of the complaint and a claim is unsubstantiated only when it is obviously without merit or clearly determined by previous case law. Id. The district judge initially assigned to the matter has a limited jurisdiction to determine whether such a case shall be heard by one judge or three judges. Id. The language of § 2284 “is mandatory” and that the district court must make the initial determination of non-frivolousness, and if it so finds, the three-judge panel procedure must be followed. Id.

         The undersigned's initial review of the Complaint shows that Plaintiffs have sufficiently stated allegations that their constitutional rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause were violated.

         Plaintiffs allege that “Michigan's durable and severe partisan gerrymander of state legislative and congressional districts violates individual Plaintiffs' First Amendment free speech and association rights and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights.” (Complaint, Doc. No. 1, Pg ID 2) Plaintiffs further allege that “[t]he 2011 Michigan redistricting process was a particularly egregious example of partisan gerrymandering, ” claiming that “Congressional and state legislative districting plans were developed in a private, secret process by Republican consultants, legislative staff and legislators to the exclusion of Democrats and the public.” (Id., Pg ID 2-3)

         Plaintiffs state that the Michigan Legislature enacts new districting plans by statute after every 10-year census. (Id., Pg ID 11) Plaintiffs assert that S.B. 498 and H.B. 4780, revealed to the public on June 17, 2011, were signed into law on August 9, 2011. (Id., Pg ID 11, 13) S.B. 498 sets forth the district lines for the election of both houses of the Michigan Legislature (“Current House Plan” or “Current Senate Plan”). (Id. Pg Id. 13) H.B. 4780 sets forth the congressional district lines ...

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