The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday ruled that Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips’s name will appear on the state’s April 2 primary ballot, after he claimed he was unlawfully excluded.
Acting on the recommendation of the state Democratic Party leaders, the Wisconsin Elections Commission and the Wisconsin Presidential Preference Selection Committee had previously listed President Biden as the only Democratic candidate for the state’s primary.
Phillips, a Democratic congressman representing Minnesota, had accused the state party of forcing him to spend about $300,000 to collect signatures through a separate process to acquire ballot access.
In his complaint last week asking the state Supreme Court to overrule his exclusion, he cited a provision of state election law that allows ballot access for candidates who are found to have been recognized as serious contenders by the news media. He argued in his brief that the state elections board failed to make any determination of whether Phillips met this test, despite significant news coverage of his candidacy.
The panel of judges wrote in Friday’s court’s opinion that the Wisconsin selection committee “held no discussion about Phillips or any other Democratic presidential primary candidate” during the entirety of its candidate selection meeting last month, which they said lasted “just over five minutes.”
The judges wrote that the committee “erroneously exercised its discretion” and directed “that the name of Dean Phillips be placed on the 2024 Democratic presidential preference primary ballot as a candidate for the office of president of the United States.”
Liberals hold a 4-3 majority on the court, and the justices often clash publicly with one another in cases that touch on politics. That didn’t happen in this case, as no dissents were noted.
Phillips praised the decision in a statement.
“We are fighting to give voters a choice this election cycle — something that Democratic leadership across the country should be embracing if they truly value having a democratic election,” Phillips said.
Before Friday’s court decision, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) had called Phillips’s challenge “a distraction.”
“I think the party can figure it out. I can’t believe that this is going forward. That seems ridiculous to me,” Evers told reporters late last month, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “To me, it looks like (the committee) followed the process. I don’t know what his position will be in court but it’s just another distraction, frankly.”
Phillips, the only elected Democrat challenging Biden for the nomination, finished with about 20 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. Biden, whose name did not appear on the New Hampshire ballot, received 64 percent of the vote through a write-in campaign.
Three other states — Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee — have only Biden as a candidate on their state primary ballots for Democrats.
Jeff Weaver, a senior strategist with Phillips’s campaign, said in a statement that the court “struck a blow against the anti-democratic attempts by Biden allies to unlawfully keep” Phillips off the ballot.
Weaver added that the campaign expects the DNC “will take notice” of Friday’s ruling as the committee reviews “the improper barring of Dean Phillips from the ballots in North Carolina and Florida.”
Phillips has vowed to continue his primary campaign in South Carolina, which holds its Democratic primary on Saturday, and Michigan, which votes on Feb. 27. Phillips will not appear on the Feb. 6 Nevada primary ballot because he missed the qualification deadline.
Wisconsin Democrats said after the ruling that they were looking ahead to the general election.
“Wisconsin Democrats remain focused and united in our work to ensure that President Biden defeats Donald Trump this November,” said Joseph Oslund, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Democratic Party. “We look forward to Dean Phillips joining us once his campaign reaches its inevitable conclusion.”
Patrick Marley contributed to this report.