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January 15, 2008

Nevada Supreme Court: NBC Can Choose Its Debate Participants

Much to the consternation of the people who flooded my comment thread with vitriol, the Nevada Supreme Court has reversed the lower court that tried to force NBC to include Dennis Kucinich in tonight's debate. As I argued, they not only found that the judge had violated NBC's free speech rights, they also found that the court had no jurisdiction:

The Nevada Supreme Court said Tuesday MSNBC can exclude Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich from a candidate debate.

Lawyers for NBC Universal Inc., had asked the high court to overturn a lower court order that the cable TV news network include the Ohio congressman or pull the plug on broadcasting the debate Tuesday night with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards.

An hour before the debate, the state Supreme Court's unanimous order said that blocking the debate unless Kucinich got to participate would be "an unconstitutional prior restraint" on the news network's First Amendment rights. The justices also said the lower court exceeded its jurisdiction by ordering Kucinich's participation even though he first requested and was denied relief from the Federal Communications Commission.

I guess everyone who flung personal insults in the prior thread will be apologizing to me in this one. Right? Right? Hello? Hello?

The courts and the government have no business telling broadcasters who they must include and, by extension, who they must exclude from presidential debates. NBC may have been foolish to exclude Kucinich -- it's arguable -- but that's their decision, and not the court's. They can answer to their viewers for those editorial decisions, and their partners in staging the debate can find a different broadcast partner the next time. If the government forces editorial decisions on NBC, then it violates their property rights on their productions and the free speech rights of the network to decide on their own content.

ADDENDUM: Oh, and when a court violates the First Amendment and its jurisdictional restraints to impose a result for the purpose of "fairness", that's exactly what we consider judicial activism.


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