Johnson v. Commission on Presidential Debates, No. 16-7107 (D.C. Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, the Libertarian Party's presidential and vice presidential candidates in the 2012 elections, filed suit claiming that they were excluded pursuant to an agreement between the Obama for America and Romney for President campaigns. Plaintiffs alleged that the parties' agreement reflected in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) stipulated to three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate, and designated dates, locations, moderators, and topics. Plaintiffs challenged the MOU as an unlawful agreement to monopolize and restrain competition in violation of sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1–2. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case. The court held that the doctrine of constitutional avoidance permitted the court to resolve this case on alternative grounds, based on antitrust standing. The court explained that the injuries plaintiffs claim were simply not those contemplated by the antitrust laws. Furthermore, plaintiffs failed to allege a clear legal claim, let alone identified a cognizable injury, in regard to their First Amendment claim.