In a surprising decision, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. ruled against the Federal Election Commission in the case of Level the Playing Field et al v. Federal Election Commission holding that the rules governing participation in the presidential debates were decided unfairly and arbitrarily.
Level the Playing Field (LPF), the organization that brought the suit, challenged the 501(c)(3) nonprofit status of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) arguing it used unfair criteria to determine the participants of the 2016 presidential debates.
During oral arguments Lead Attorney for LPF, Alexandra Shapiro, argued the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) should lose its nonprofit status due to the unfair criteria used to determine eligibility in the presidential debates. The CPD, which is regulated by the Federal Election Commission, excluded non-major party candidates from participating in the debates in light of its 15 percent rule. According to the CPD, in order to participate in the presidential debates, a candidate must have "a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations..."
Judge Chutkan's ruling in favor of LPF grants their motion for summary judgement and ordered the FEC to reconsider the allegations against the CPD within 30 days. The order states:
“The FEC is ORDERED to reconsider the evidence and allegations and issue a new decision consistent with this Opinion “within 30 days, failing which the complainant[s] may bring, in the name of such complainant[s], a civil action to remedy the violation involved in the original complaint.”... The FEC is FURTHER ORDERED to reconsider the Petition for Rulemaking and issue a new decision consistent with this Opinion within sixty days.”