Gary Johnson Sues To Get Into Presidential Debates

Libertarian Gary Johnson files suit against debate planners, claims they unfairly exclude third parties.

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Republican presidential candidate former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson makes a statement during a debate Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011, in Orlando, Fla.

Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson has filed a lawsuit to win a spot in the presidential debates that start in Denver on Oct. 3.

It's unlikely that he will succeed, but Johnson argues that the private Commission on Presidential Debates, along with the Democratic and the Republican parties, are unfairly blocking him from participating. Only President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney are being allowed to debate.

"Someone has to stand up and call this what it is—a rigged system designed entirely to protect and perpetuate the two-party duopoly," says Johnson spokesman Ron Nielson. "That someone will be the Johnson campaign."

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Johnson is currently on a national tour of college campuses as he attempts to energize the youth vote on his behalf. He is trying to tap into the support among young people enjoyed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian-conservative who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP presidential nomination this year.

Even if his lawsuit fails, it could help Johnson gain publicity and maximize his potential on Election Day. Johnson favors deep cuts in federal spending and power, along with withdrawal of U.S. troops from abroad, including Afghanistan. If he can boost his support in a handful of battleground states, he could have an impact on the race by taking votes from the major-party nominees, especially Romney, who is also trying to appeal to less-government conservatives.

The commission has declared that the debates are limited to candidates who are constitutionally eligible to hold the presidency; have achieved ballot access in enough states to win a theoretical Electoral College majority in the general election, and have the support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five polling organizations selected by the commission.

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Johnson falls short in the polling category. The survey gives him support in the mid- to low single digits nationally.

But Johnson, who is a former two-term governor of New Mexico, argues that the commission and the Democratic and Republican parties are colluding to exclude the Libertarian Party from the debates. He says this amounts to a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act because the collusion limits competition and causes injury to both the American public and Gary Johnson.

Johnson has filed the federal anti-trust lawsuit in a U.S. district court in central California, where Libertarian vice presidential candidate Jim Gray lives. Gray is a former California judge.

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.