WASHINGTON — The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday that public broadcasting stations have the right to decide which candidates are qualified to participate in televised debates.
The decision is a victory for the growing movement to carve out more time on all TV stations for political debate. Commercial broadcasters have resisted the effort, and high on their list of objections is the possibility of being sued by a fringe candidate who was refused access to the airwaves.
But in a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that even TV stations owned by state governments have the right to decide who is a qualified candidate and who is not.
“This is a welcome ruling,” said Paul Taylor, founder of the Free TV for Straight Talk Coalition. “I know this was a concern for broadcasters.”
Specifically, the Supreme Court ruled that Arkansas public television stations, which are run by the state government, were within their rights when they refused to allow Ralph Forbes to participate in a congressional debate in 1992.
Forbes is a former member of the American Nazi Party and now calls himself a “Christian Supremacist.” Forbes told the Associated Press on Monday that the Supreme Court’s decision ran counter to the right to free speech guaranteed under the First Amendment.