Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008 | 3:45 p.m.
It’s three hours before tonight’s scheduled Democratic debate on MSNBC, yet it remains unclear whether long-shot Dennis Kucinich will be allowed to participate.
A decision is expected from the seven-member state Supreme Court by 6 p.m., the chief justice said at the close of a hastily arranged hearing this afternoon. Four justices were based at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas, where Kucinich was in attendance but did not speak; the three other justices participated via a video feed from Carson City.
In District Court on Monday, Kucinich’s attorney alleged NBC Universal had breached a contract by withdrawing an invitation to the Ohio Congressman, which was backed by a judge. NBC appealed the decision this morning, prompting this afternoon’s hearing.
Last week, NBC – through a political consultant – invited the Ohio Congressman by e-mail to participate tonight, yet on Friday withdrew it after changing the participation criteria.
NBC News now plans to only include the three front-runners in tonight’s debate: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama. In a brief interview with reporters after Tuesday’s hearing, Las Vegas attorney Donald Campbell, representing NBC Universal, said he is “not equipped” to address whether its cable network has a fourth candidate station in the event the Supreme Court uphold the decision by the District Court.
In court Tuesday, Campbell contended denying NBC News the right to modify its criteria would infringe on the company’s First Amendment rights.
“Simply because you allege breach of contract doesn’t lessen the burden of the First Amendment,” he said.
He later said abridging First Amendment rights would amount to prior restraint.
“It’s clear and it’s unequivocal … and it’s also unconstitutional,” Campbell said.
Kucinich’s attorney, William McGaha, told the court the contract was “serious” and denying the representative the stage tonight “would be detrimental to voters.”
“Is it an important public interest?” he asked.