Democracy Debatable as Judge Rejects Third-Party Bid to Share Stage

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Democracy Debatable as Judge Rejects Third-Party Bid to Share Stage

Federal judge said lack of popular support drives scant media coverage, but what about the reverse?

Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, on left, and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, on right. (Photos: Gage Skidmore here and here/cc/flickr)

Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, on left, and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, on right. (Photos: Gage Skidmore here and here/cc/flickr)

A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit by the Green and Libertarian parties seeking a space on the debate stage alongside the Democrat/Republican "duopoly."

The complaint, launched last fall, presented an anti-trust argument against the Commission on Presidential Debates, saying that a "cognizable political campaign market" is being corrupted by the commission's rules, which bar a candidate from debating unless they are polling at 15 percent or higher.

And while observers were not surprised that the court dismissed the challenge, the judge's rationale raised some questions about the role that the media plays in crafting the current two-party system.

"Plaintiffs in this case have not alleged a non-speculative injury traceable to the Commission," wrote (pdf) U.S District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer, an appointee of former President George W. Bush.

"Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries are wholly speculative and are dependent entirely on media coverage decisions," Collyer continued. "The alleged injuries—failure to receive media coverage and to garner votes, federal matching funds, and campaign contributions—were caused by the lack of popular support of the candidates and their parties sufficient to attract media attention."

In response to the ruling, presumptive Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein, who was arrested in 2012 for trying to attend one of the debates, said: "We always expected that the courts were likely to side with the two corporate parties in trying to limit inclusion in the debates. Ultimately this will be decided in the court of public opinion. The public needs to demand that Clinton and Trump agree to debate all the candidates that are on the ballot in enough states to win the election."

The news came amid the Green Party National Convention, which is being held this week in Houston, Texas.

And while the campaigns of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump dominate headlines, voters continue to express record dissatisfaction with the two frontrunners.

"There is clearly an unprecedented desire for alternatives to the Republican and Democratic nominees, and voters deserve an opportunity to see and hear that there are, in fact, other credible, serious choices," said Ron Nielson, campaign manager for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson.

What's more, the latest polling shows that when third-party candidates are factored in, Clinton's lead over Trump has consistently shrunk, creating what Politico described as a potential "third-party headache" for the former secretary of state.

The first general election debate is scheduled for Monday, September 26th at New York's Hofstra University.

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