(CN) – The Green Party has no constitutional right to participate in a public broadcasting station’s televised debates, even though it has been recognized by the state as an established political party, a Chicago federal judge ruled.
In 2006, Illinois recognized the Green Party as an established political party based on Rich Whitney’s receipt of over 11 percent of the votes for the governor race. As such, the party became eligible to participate in televised debates.
Window to the World Communications is the nonprofit behind a public broadcasting television station in Chicago. In 2010, it promoted and broadcasted debates between mainstream party candidates on the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.
But Window to the World refused to invite to Whitney or another Green Party candidate, LeAlan Jones, to participate in the debates it hosted for the November 2010 election.
The Green Party countered with a lawsuit alleging that Window to the World violated its First, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights. Window to the World moved to dismiss the complaint for failing to state a claim, arguing that the plaintiffs have not and cannot allege that any state action was behind the exclusion.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman agreed with the broadcasters.
Though the Constitution protects citizens from conduct by private actors when that conduct constitutes state action, Gettleman said, “Whether plaintiffs can state a claim depends entirely on whether defendants’ conduct can be characterized as state or purely private action.”
The Green Party had tried to allege state action by mentioning that Window to the World acquired its building and land from Illinois. It also played up the nonprofit’s “role as a public broadcaster and the history and regulation of non-commercial educational broadcasting.”
Gettleman found, however, that “nothing in the complaint or brief reaches the ultimate issue: the decision to exclude plaintiffs from the October 2010 debates.”
“There is simply no factual allegation to support a claim that the decision to exclude defendants was made, compelled or mandated by the state of Illinois,” the judge wrote.
“The mere assertions that public broadcasting is heavily regulated and that defendant receives federal funding do not, by themselves, convert an individual broadcast action into that of the government,” he added.