Friday, July 07, 2006

Indicted DeLay must stay on November ballot: Court

Indicted DeLay must stay on November ballot: Court
By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Indicted former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay must stay on the November congressional ballot despite withdrawing from the race, a federal court ruled on Thursday in a decision that could help Democrats win this key seat.

Texas Republicans quickly responded they would appeal the decision by the U.S. court in Austin, Texas, for the right to choose another Republican to run against Democrat Nick Lampson. The seat is crucial to Democratic hopes to pick up the 15 seats needed to regain control of the House of Representatives.

"Ultimately, everyone knows the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will be the final arbiter of this," said Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill.

DeLay, once one of the most powerful Republicans in the House, had stepped down as majority leader last year after being indicted on campaign finance-related charges in Texas.

He dropped his re-election bid this spring after polls showed his campaign was hurt by those charges as well as an expanding scandal involving disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In June, DeLay resigned the congressional seat he first won in 1984 and moved from his suburban Houston congressional district to Virginia to make himself ineligible for office under state law.

U.S. Judge Sam Sparks in Austin said DeLay could take his name off the ballot by formally withdrawing from the race. If DeLay formally withdraws, the Republican Party cannot replace him, likely giving the seat to Democrat Lampson.

DeLay's office predicted on Thursday the decision would be overturned by a U.S. appeals court.

"Tom DeLay looks forward to the correct decision being rendered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals," spokeswoman Dani DeLay Ferro said.

DeLay has not been charged in the Abramoff scandal, but two former aides have pleaded guilty to corruption charges.


Democrats contended that Texas law did not override the U.S. Constitution, which only requires a candidate be a resident on election day of the state where the congressional district is located.

As proof of his move, DeLay, in a hearing in Austin last week, produced a driver's license, a voter registration card and an income tax withholding form from Virginia and said he planned to live in that state indefinitely.

Democrats argued DeLay's wife continues to live in their Sugar Land, Texas, home.

"There is no evidence that DeLay will still be living in Virginia tomorrow, let alone on November 7, 2006, the only day that matters under the qualifications clause of the U.S. Constitution," Sparks wrote in his ruling.

The lawyer who argued the Republican Party's case said Sparks' decision would prevent states from assuring the eligibility of federal candidates prior to an election.

"We think this decision would really throw our elections into chaos," said James Bopp Jr. "It would make the Bush-Gore dispute in Florida look like a picnic."

Woodfill said Republican Party leaders in the four counties through which DeLay's district runs were still preparing to replace DeLay.

Lampson is a former congressman whose district, running from southeast Houston to the east Texas border, was eliminated in the 2003 congressional redistricting DeLay forced through the Texas Legislature.