The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] in two cases Wednesday. In Shapiro v. McManus [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court is hearing a challenge to the Three Judge Court Act [28 USC § 2284], which requires the convening of a three-judge district court to decide certain important lawsuits such as those concerning voter redistricting. The court ruled in Goosby v. Osser (1973) [opinion] that a three-judge court is not required when the claim is “insubstantial.” The question before the court is, “May a single-judge district court determine that a complaint covered by 28 USC § 2284 is insubstantial, and that three judges therefore are not required, not because it concludes that the complaint is wholly frivolous, but because it concludes that the complaint fails to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) [text]?” The justices appeared divided on the question Wednesday, with more conservative members appearing hesitant to further involve courts in this political issue while the more liberal members emphasized the importance of such challenges.
Also Wednesday the court heard arguments Bruce v. Samuels [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on the percentage of a prisoner’s income that may be used to pay court fees when they were not able to pay the fees initially. If a prisoner is appealing a single case, the Prison Litigation Reform Act [28 USC § 1915 text] caps the repayment rate at 20 percent of their monthly income. But this case involves prisoners who are appealing multiple cases, and the question is whether the law limits the percentage to 20 percent for each case or for all of a prisoner’s cases combined. Circuit courts have split on the issue, with the DC, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Tenth Circuits holding that the cap is 20 percent for each case and the Second and Fourth Circuits holding that the cap is 20 percent combined.