Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson filed an anti-trust lawsuit suit in federal court Friday alleging that the Democratic and Republican parties are conspiring to keep third-party candidates out of the presidential debates and, as a result, out of the White House.
In the suit, Johnson’s attorneys argue that the rules of the televised debates, which are set by the major parties, are deliberately structured to bar third party candidates and quash their candidacies. The suit asks that the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. therefore impose a temporary restraining order blocking the debates until all “constitutionally eligible” candidates be allowed to participate.
“The view that presidential debates are critical to the outcome of the election is now universally held,” the suit reads. “From that premise, it follows that the participation by a candidate in the nationally-televised debates is equally critical to his or her candidacy.”
The debate rules specify that to be included, candidates must receive at least 15% in a major poll. Most major polls do not even list Johnson as an option.
The suit argues that since the president and vice president are paid a salary, the pursuit of the White House can be defined as commerce and thus be regulated by the Sherman Antitrust Act.
“In agreeing to these rules to exclude the plaintiff from participating in the debates, the defendants are conspiring and contracting to restrain the plaintiffs from participating in the electoral process,” it reads.
Johnson was also barred from nearly every single Republican primary debate this election cycle, with organizers saying he did not register enough poll support to merit inclusion. He ultimately abandoned his campaign for the GOP nod, opting to instead pursue the White House on the Libertarian ticket.
Televised presidential debates date back to 1960, and have been a regular event since the 1976 election. Originally administered by the League of Women Voters, they’ve been jointly organized by the Democratic and Republican parties through the Commission on Presidential Debates—a group the two parties jointly formed—since 1987.
In 2000, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan both unsuccessfully filed suit against the CPD challenging its legitimacy and asking to be included in the debates.
Jon Terbush is a Boston-based writer whose work has appeared in Talking Points Memo, Business Insider, the New Haven Register, and elsewhere. He tweets about politics, cats, and baseball via @jonterbush.
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