A federal judge ruled today that organizers of a Senate debate this Sunday can exclude independent candidate Shiva Ayyadurai because published polls show him garnering less than 10% of the vote.
US District Court Judge Richard Stearns said that making poll standing a criterion for participation in a debate is "viewpoint neutral," rather than being based on Ayyadurai's views on the issues, and so allowable under a 1998 Supreme Court ruling. Because Ayyadurai polled under 10%, lead organizer WCVB barred him from the debate with incumbent Elizabeth Warren and Republican Geoff Diehl.
That Ayyadurai was able to get this far in the legal process was because the University of Massachusetts is also involved in the debate's planning, which Stearns said raised First Amendment issues, because it is a public institution. Along with WCVB and UMass, the Globe and the Western Massachusetts Media Consortium are sponsoring the debate, which will be aired at 7 p.m. from a Springfield TV studio.
But Stearns continued that the criteria debate organizers used were not biased towards any particular viewpoints, and the fact that of the three candidates this year, only Ayyadurai was blocked from participation does not negate that:
Dr. Ayyadurai advances the non sequitur that because the eligibility criteria, however neutral they may appear on their face, operate to exclude only him from the debate, it follows that they are not viewpoint neutral. Why it so follows is never explained. His political and social views, whatever they may be, are no doubt personal and idiosyncratic to him, and may differ in many material respects from those of the major party candidates. But he offers no evidence that animus towards a particular opinion or opinions that he holds motivated the debate sponsors in setting the 10% polling eligibility threshold.
Stearns then dismissed Ayyadurai's suit with prejudice, so that Ayyadurai could immediately appeal the decision.