Judge Rejects Third Party Televised Debate Access

(Katie Frates)

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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A federal judge threw out a lawsuit brought by the Libertarian and Green parties alleging the Commission on Presidential Debates violated anti-trust law and the First Amendment by excluding third party candidates from televised debates.

The suit was brought by Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson and Green party presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein. Stein and Johnson claimed the Commission and the Republican and Democratic National Committees conspired to monopolize access to the presidential debates “market” by excluding candidates polling at less than 15 percent of the vote. Plaintiffs argued that the major parties excluded them to preserve “duopoly control over presidential and vice presidential debates in general election campaigns for the presidency.” (RELATED: Anti-Trump Republicans Form Group To Back Libertarian Ticket)

Though the debate television audience is not a market in the conventional sense (in the context of this case) the plaintiffs hoped to convince a judge that the Commission guards access to vast swaths of money and publicity.

“The difference between this case and other cases is our theory of relief and complaints,” Fein told the Washington Post in September 2015.

Judge Rosemary Collyer, a George W. Bush appointee, found that Johnson and Stein lacked standing to bring a case. To bring a lawsuit, a party must demonstrate – among other things – that they have suffered an injury directly attributable to the subject of their suit. In this case, Collyer ruled that the plaintiff’s supposed injury was not the direct result of any action by the Commission.

“It is obvious that Defendants did not cause Plaintiffs’ alleged harms when the sequence of events is examined,” she wrote. “Plaintiffs’ injuries occurred before Defendants failed to invite them to participate … because the lack of an invitation was due to Plaintiffs’ failure to satisfy the 15% Provision, i.e., the failure to obtain sufficient popular support. Plaintiffs have not alleged a concrete injury traceable to the Commission, and thus they lack standing.”

Collyers had an easier time dismissing the First Amendment claim, finding that the Commission and the national committees were private entities. A First Amendment violation can only be brought against the government.

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