- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2016

Neither the Libertarian nor Green parties are guaranteed a space in this year’s presidential debates, a federal court ruled Friday, dealing a blow to their candidates, who were counting on being able to get onto the stage in order to boost their long-shot bids.

District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled that the commission on presidential debates is a private entity, not a “public forum,” and neither Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson nor Green Party nominee Jill Stein can force their way into a debate.

Mr. Johnson and Ms. Green had argued that the Commission on Presidential Debates was essentially a government actor, performing an important role in American democracy, and so it should be subjected to public oversight — including by the courts.

But Judge Collyer said courts have been quite clear in finding that debates are a private action, and those sponsoring them are generally protected in making their own decisions.

“This court could not require defendants to include plaintiffs in the debates because such an order would violate the First Amendment prohibition on forced speech and forced association,” Judge Collyer found.

Mr. Johnson’s campaign said they were disappointed with the ruling and said they spotted “several serious flaws” that they said could lead to an appeal.

“This case and the larger issue of fair debates are too important to simply allow such an arbitrary dismissal,” the campaign said. But it also said the commission should act on its own to include Mr. Johnson in the debates.

The commission, which has sponsored the debates since the League of Women Voters withdrew from that role in 1988, sets the rules in agreement with officials from both the GOP and the Democratic Party — something third-party candidates say amounts to illegal collusion,

The agreement between the commission and the parties requires presidential candidates to reach at least 15 percent in an average of five national polls in order to earn a place on the stage.

Mr. Johnson says he can reach that mark this year, when both the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, and the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, are struggling to convince voters they are worthy of the top office.

In the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls Mr. Johnson stands at 8 percent. The Real Clear average provides a gauge, but is not the same methodology the commission will use.

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