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First Amendment Library:
Kelly J. Shackelford


The Arkansas Educational Television Commission, a state agency, sponsored a debate between the Democratic and Republican candidates for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in Arkansas' Third Congressional District. The Commission only invited the two major party candidates and excluded Ralph Forbes, a legally qualified independent candidate. AETC determined Forbes did not have sufficient "political viability" for inclusion. Forbes sued the agency. After a federal district court dismissed the claim, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed, finding that AETC had created a limited public forum to which Forbes had a presumptive right of access. Forbes v. Arkansas Educational Television Commission, 93 F.3d 497 (8th Cir. 1996). The appeals court determined that AETC's assessment of "political viability" was not a compelling enough interest nor narrowly tailored enough reason to pass constitutional review. The Court analyzes right of access cases using the public forum doctrine. There are three types of fora: traditional public fora, limited or designated public fora and nonpublic fora. Perry Ed. Assn. v. Perry Local Educators' Assn., 460 U.S. 37 (1983). Even in a nonpublic forum, government officials cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, discriminate based on viewpoint. Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819 (1995). However, television broadcasters enjoy &"the widest possible journalistic freedom" consistent with their public responsibilities. FCC v. League of Women Voters of Cal., 468 U.S. 364 (1984).