Precedent, Three-Judge District Courts, and the Law of Democracy
Citation: 107 Geo L.J. (2019)
As recent partisan gerrymandering cases have shown, three-judge dis-trict courts play a unique and important role in how the federal judiciary considers significant election law disputes. Yet two somewhat quirky pro-cedural questions involving these courts remain unresolved: first, is a Supreme Court ruling to summarily affirm a three-judge district court’s decision precedential on all future courts? That is, why should a one-line order from the Supreme Court, without explanation, formally bind all future courts on the issue, especially when it is unclear what aspect of the lower court’s decision was correct? Second, must a three-judge dis-trict court follow, as mandatory authority, circuit precedent in the circuit in which it sits, even though an appeal from the ruling of a three-judge district court will skip the court of appeals and go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court? This Article tackles these problems and provides clear-cut answers, which will ultimately improve judicial decisionmaking for some of the most important cases that the federal judiciary hears given their effect on democracy.