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Johnson, Stein Lose Debate Lawsuit, but the Fight Is Far From Over

Created: 29 August, 2017
Updated: 17 October, 2022
2 min read

The US Court of Appeals tossed an anti-trust lawsuit Tuesday brought by Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, their respective parties, and affiliated groups against the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The court's opinion mostly echoed a lower court'd decision that there was no merit to the plaintiffs' claim that a) the CPD violated anti-trust laws under the Sherman Act, and b) plaintiffs didn't provide enough evidence that the debate commission was intentionally shutting out minor party and independent candidates.

READ MORE: Federal Judge Strikes Down Third Party Lawsuit against Debate Commission

"The injuries Plaintiffs claim are simply not those contemplated by the antitrust laws. Consequently, Plaintiffs’ anti-trust claims fail to meet the requirements of antitrust standing," the court writes.

One of the biggest issues with the lawsuit was that it challenged a private organization -- the Commission on Presidential Debates -- which allowed federal judges to rule that it had every right to set its own rules.

The legal fight against the debate commission, however, is far from over.

Level the Playing Field (LPF), et. al. v FEC is currently before a US district court, where plaintiffs have filed a second complaint against the FEC in May.

LPF challenges the debate commission's 501(c)(3) tax status. The CPD considers itself a nonpartisan organization even though members, including its co-chairs, have a financial and political investment in the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Further, LPF says the debate commission is violating federal law by not using "objective criteria" to determine debate entry, and the FEC continues to ignore the "mountain of evidence" against the debate commission.

LPF says the FEC is acting “arbitrarily and capriciously and contrary to law” -- a charge Judge Tanya S. Chutkan made against the FEC in February.

The lawsuit aims to change the rules so that the CPD abides by federal law and uses nonpartisan and objective criteria when determining debate entry -- to give voters greater choice in presidential elections.

Under the current rules, it is all but impossible for an alternative candidate to get on the debate stage, and without the promise of media exposure, there is no incentive to run, leaving Americans with just two options.

"If these rules are not changed, we might as well write into the Constitution that only Republicans and Democrats can be president," says Peter Ackerman, CEO of Level the Playing Field.