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Presidential Debate Commission Under Fire – Again

It has been a rough year so far for the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). The group, which organizes the fall presidential debates and determines who will appear on the debate stage, may finally be forced to change its ways.

In February, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. ruled against the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the government body tasked with regulating groups like the CPD, in Level the Playing Field, et al v. FEC. Chutkan reasoned that the rules governing participation in the presidential debates were decided unfairly and arbitrarily.

The current debate rules require candidates to reach 15% in 5 national polls picked by the CPD in order to appear on the presidential debate stage. Candidates also must be on the ballot in enough states to have a mathematical chance at winning an electoral majority.

The FEC said it will not appeal the ruling. It will still have to comply with Chutkan’s court order by April 3 to provide new decisions on the administrative complaints against the CPD it previously dismissed.

And if the CPD was getting ready to slink back into the shadows, it is not going to be that easy. The U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, has decided it will hear Gary Johnson, et al v Commission on Presidential Debates on Friday, April 21.

The case was originally filed back in 2015 by Gov. Gary Johnson, Dr. Jill Stein, the Libertarian and Green Parties, and several affiliated organizations. The plaintiffs sued the CPD, arguing that it violated federal antitrust laws by essentially ensuring that the major parties have a monopoly over presidential elections.

The case was dismissed by federal court Judge Rosemary Collyer in August 2016. The judge ruled that there was little merit to the claim that the CPD is violating antitrust laws and there was no evidence the commission intentionally shuts out minor party presidential candidates.

One of the biggest issues facing this lawsuit is that unlike the FEC, the CPD is a private institution, which allowed Judge Collyer to reason that the CPD had every right to determine its own rules.

Now, however, Johnson and Stein have another shot at making their case. Will they have better luck this time around? Stay tuned. We’ll keep you updated on the appeals process.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons