United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the court on Defendant's
“Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.” (Doc.
27). Defendant first raises jurisdiction-specifically whether
this court must refer this case to a three-judge panel
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284(a). The court always must
determine whether it has jurisdiction before proceeding in
any case. So, while Defendant raised several issues in his
motion, the court will only address in this Memorandum
Opinion whether it lacks jurisdiction and must refer this
case to a three-judge panel.
§ 2284, as relevant here, a three-judge panel must hear
a case if the case either (1) raises a constitutional
challenge to an apportionment of congressional districts or
(2) is “otherwise required by Act of Congress” to
be heard by a panel. Plaintiffs allege that the Alabama
congressional redistricting plan violates Section 2 of the
Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10301, but do
not allege a constitutional violation. Section 2
does not require challenges brought under its authority to be
heard by a three-judge panel.
first raised this jurisdictional question in his
“Notice of Jurisdictional Issue” on July 9,
2018. (Doc. 12). On November 2, 2018, Defendant
filed his “Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings”
in which he contends that this court lacks jurisdiction
because a three-judge panel must hear this case. (Doc. 27).
Plaintiffs filed “Plaintiffs' Brief in Opposition
to Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings” on November 30, 2018. (Doc. 31). On December
21, 2018, Defendant filed “Secretary of State John
Merrill's Reply in Support of His Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings (Doc. 27).” (Doc. 37). On January 16,
2019, this court held a motion hearing on the issue of
whether a three-judge panel must hear this case. (Doc. 35).
The jurisdictional issue is now ripe for review.
are eight African-American citizens of Alabama. One Plaintiff
resides in Congressional District (CD) 1, one resides in CD
2, one resides in CD 3, and five reside in CD 7. The
redistricting plan currently used in Alabama, Senate Bill
484, allegedly “packs” African-American voters
into CD 7. See S.B. 484, 2011 Reg. Sess. (Ala.
2011). The Alabama legislature established CD 7 as a
majority-minority district following the 1982 Amendments of
the Voting Rights Act. Nearly one-third of Alabama's
African-American population falls into CD 7. Prior to the
passage of S.B. 484, the black voting age population (BVAP)
of CD 7 was 58.33%. Now, the CD 7 BVAP is 60.91%. Plaintiffs
argue that S.B. 484 moved African-American voters from
predominantly white districts into CD 7 to “pack”
the district designated as a majority-minority district with
African-American voters. The plan also allegedly
“cracks” African-American voters in CDs 1, 2, and
3 by splitting among three districts those African-American
voters who could be grouped together in a second
majority-minority district. Plaintiffs contend that the
African-American population in these districts could be
united to form a second majority-minority CD.
only raise a Section 2 violation of the Voting Rights Act,
alleging vote dilution. They do not raise a
constitutional challenge to the redistricting plan.
requests a three-judge panel under 28 U.S.C. § 2284.
Defendant concedes that this case does not fall within the
express language of § 2284's requirements for a
three-judge panel. But Defendant argues that Plaintiffs
selectively brought only a statutory claim precisely to avoid
a three-judge panel, and, because the statutory claim is so
similar to the corresponding constitutional claim Plaintiffs
deliberately omitted, a three-judge panel should still hear
the case. Further, Defendant maintains that the legislative
history behind the 1976 amendments to § 2284 and the
policies behind § 2284 coupled with the Voting Rights
Act lean in favor of convening a three-judge panel to hear
contend that this case should not go to a three-judge panel
because § 2284(a) plainly states that a three-judge
panel shall only be convened when challenging the
constitutionality of the apportionment of
congressional districts or “when otherwise required by
Act of Congress.” Plaintiffs maintain that “the
plaintiff [is] the master of the claim, ” so the court
should honor their decision not to bring a constitutional
challenge. See Beneficial Nat'l Bank v.
Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 12 (2003) (Scalia, J., dissenting)
(quoting Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386,
392 (1987)). Further, Plaintiffs argue that Section 2 does
not require a three-judge panel, so Section 2 cannot be
considered an Act of Congress “otherwise”
requiring a three-judge panel to hear the case.
Standard of Review
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3) states that “[i]f the
court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.”
Indeed, “it is incumbent upon [a] federal court . . .
to constantly examine the basis of jurisdiction, doing so on
[its] own motion if necessary.” Save the Bay, Inc.
v. U.S. Army, 639 F.2d 1100, 1102 (5th Cir. 1981)
(citing Rule 12(h)(3)); see also Louisville &
Nashville R.R. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908)
(“[I]t is the duty of this court to see to it that the
jurisdiction of the circuit court, which is defined and
limited by statute, is not exceeded.”).
the parties do not contest whether a federal court may hear
this case, but whether a three-judge panel must hear this
case. Under 28 U.S.C. § 2284(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.” If the court determines that the case must be
heard by a three-judge panel, “the judge to whom the
request is presented shall . . . immediately notify the chief
judge of the circuit.” Id. § 2284(b)(1).
If a three-judge panel is convened, a single judge may not
enter a judgment on the merits. Id. §
2284(b)(3). So, this court must determine the jurisdictional
question of whether this case is properly before a single
judge before the case can continue.
face, Plaintiffs' complaint only brings an action under
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act-not under the 14th or 15th
Amendments, which often accompany Section 2 causes of action;
not under any other constitutional provision; and not under