Bob Hickingbottom addresses the crowd at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia on Aug. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A special Hinds County Circuit Court judge has ruled the state Democratic Party improperly disqualified Bob Hickingbottom from this year’s gubernatorial primary ballot.

The state party is appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court. The high court issued an order Tuesday for parties to file briefs and other paperwork by Wednesday to expedite the matter, with the start of absentee voting drawing near.

Judge Forest Johnson Jr. ruled that Hickingbottom meets qualifications to run for Mississippi governor — being at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen for 20 years or more and a resident of the state for at least five years. The judge ruled that, while it is undisputed that Hickingbottom has failed to file a statement of economic interest with the Ethics Commission as required by law since he ran for governor in 2019 as a Constitution Party candidate, he should still be on the ballot.

The ruling said there is a difference between violating the law requiring a candidate to file an ethics report and qualifications to run for governor and, “Qualifications are core … Either you are or you’re not.” The court noted that if elected, Hickingbottom could face misdemeanor penalties for failing to file the report, including being barred from being sworn into office or receiving a salary.

READ MORE: What is Bob Hickingbottom up to?

The judge also ruled that while Hickingbottom appeared to wait too late to file an appeal of his disqualification by the party, his right to run for office and the right of people to vote for him “prevails over his delay in seeking relief from this court.”

“We are a constitutional democracy in this nation,” Johnson wrote. “Voting is a fundamental pillar of our democracy. The right of citizens to run for elected office, while not yet recognized on the same level as voting itself, is at least a quasi fundamental pillar of our democracy.”

The state Democratic Party Executive Committee in February ruled that Hickingbottom and another little-known candidate, Gregory Wash, had not met eligibility requirements to run for governor, with both failing to file statements of economic interest with the Ethics Commission. This left Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley as the lone candidate on the Aug. 8 primary ballot. Wash, who ran for governor as a Democrat four years ago, did not appeal the decision in court.

Presley is considered the frontrunner in the Democratic Primary and is expected to face incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who faces two little-known candidates in his primary, in the Nov. 7 general election.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.