A federal judge frustrated Ross Perot’s hopes of sharing the debate stage with President Clinton and Bob Dole, ruling Tuesday that the courts had no jurisdiction in Perot’s dispute with debate sponsors.
But lawyers for Perot and another presidential candidate, John Hagelin of the Natural Law Party, were granted an expedited appeal of the judge’s ruling in order to try and resolve the issue before Sunday night’s first debate.
Oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals were scheduled for Thursday, according to Bob Roth, a spokesman for the Natural Law Party.
“This means they’re taking the case seriously,” Hagelin said. ” … We’re just trying to force the debates to serve their actual purpose: to expose the country to different views during election years.”
In dismissing Perot’s lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, said his complaint “should be with Congress and the regulatory framework it established.” That means Perot must deal with the Federal Election Commission in seeking to force his way into the debates from which he has been excluded by the private Commission on Presidential Debates.
Perot already has complained to the FEC, alleging that the debate commission has broken federal law and asking that it be blocked from sponsoring the debates if he is not allowed in. But FEC spokeswoman Sharon Snyder said the agency by law must follow a complaint process that cannot realistically be completed by Election Day.
In declining to act, Hogan let stand the debate commission’s decision that Perot should be excluded because he didn’t have a realistic chance of winning the election.
Exclusion from the televised debates “makes it more difficult for us,” Perot’s running mate, Pat Choate, said after Tuesday’s decision.
“At the same time it gives us a terrific issue and a great example of how closed the political system has become and how outsiders are truly excluded,” he added.
He held out hope that the appeals court might be more sympathetic. “We always feared that at the lower level we’d lose the case. Most decisions are made on the appellate level,” he said.
When the commission voted to exclude Perot from the debates last month, the Texan complained, “If I can’t get on television, I can’t get the message out.”
His lawyers also have filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, saying he’s been denied prime time slots for his commercials.
Perot was a participant in the 1992 debates with Clinton and George Bush, enlivening the encounters. He won 19 percent of the popular vote but no electoral votes.