Federal Judge Asked to Place Dean Phillips on Florida Primary Ballot

Federal Judge Asked to Place Dean Phillips on Florida Primary Ballot – Florida Democrats are persisting in justifying their choice to expedite the presidential primary in support of President Joe Biden, now facing the necessity to defend this decision in federal court. A Tampa attorney, who has previously sought political office, is seeking a federal judge’s directive to compel state election officials to include Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) on the March 19 ballot alongside Biden. 

Filed last week against both the Florida Democratic Party and Secretary of State Cord Byrd, the lawsuit argues that the Democrats’ process, as outlined by Florida law, is unconstitutional. “Were the court to deny relief, a grave inequity would result because only President Joseph Biden would have gained access to the ballot by unconstitutional means,” states a motion filed by Michael Steinberg. 

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Michael Steinberg has run unsuccessfully for the Legislature and Congress and was the vice presidential candidate for the Reform Party in 2016. The Florida Phoenix initially reported on Steinberg’s lawsuit. In late October, Phillips, an affluent congressman from Minnesota, initiated his unlikely presidential campaign. Concurrently, during the Florida Democratic Party’s annual convention in Orlando, the state executive committee unanimously voted to exclusively submit Biden’s name to Florida election officials. 

This decision effectively nullified the Democratic primary. The decision, which received minimal attention until just before the November 30 deadline for parties to submit primary candidates, infuriated Phillips and his campaign. Phillips himself called it “intentional disenfranchisement” and said “Americans would expect the absence of democracy in Tehran, not Tallahassee.”

The lawsuit doesn’t list Phillips as a party, and a campaign spokesperson stated that it was independently filed without their awareness. The Phillips campaign had previously explored filing challenges, including with the Democratic National Committee, regarding their exclusion from the ballot. A representative from the Florida Democratic Party acknowledged the lawsuit, stating that the party is familiar with the legal action. 

In a statement, they explained the Democrats’ process, asserting it was “not uncommon” and akin to their approach for President Barack Obama in 2011. The statement clarified that no one at the state convention put forward Phillips’ name for nomination. “The Florida Democratic Party stands by the decision made by the state executive committee and does not intend to circumvent long-established protocols and procedures for candidates who did not receive nominations,” stated the party.

Florida law grants political parties the authority to determine presidential primary ballot inclusions, setting a deadline of Nov. 30 for notification. Republicans mandated candidates to submit paperwork and pay varying fees, influenced by participation in a November GOP gathering. Contrarily, Florida Democrats took early action, notifying the state on Nov. 1 with Biden as the sole primary candidate. 

At that point, Phillips had recently entered the race, while Marianne Williamson had been campaigning for months. The Democrats’ delegate selection plan lacks a specific deadline for candidates to request inclusion on the primary ballot. An initial version from April mentioned preparing a list of “recognized” candidates, but a revised version on Nov. 1 stated approval would occur at the state party convention, held from Oct. 27 to Oct. 29, when Biden was endorsed as the exclusive candidate.

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In his lawsuit Steinberg, who said he intended to vote in the Democratic Party, called the actions of the party “arbitrary and capricious” and that it violated due process and equal protection rights. He also called the process used by Democrats as “unduly vague.” “The defendants cannot dispute that Congressman Dean Phillips is a nationally recognized candidate for president and has been since he announced his candidacy in October, 2023,” states an injunction motion filed by Steinberg. 

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“He has appeared on numerous television news programs and his candidacy has been discussed by multiple media sources including television, print, and social media. The Florida Democratic Party cannot dispute the Democratic party credentials of Congressman Dean Phillips. His platform is consistent with the platform of the Democratic Party.” Steinberg has requested Judge Allen Winsor, appointed by former President Donald Trump, to expedite the review of his lawsuit.

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