Friday, August 04, 2006

Appeals Panel Keeps DeLay on Ballot; GOP Will Ask Supreme Court to Delist Former Lawmaker
Appeals Panel Keeps DeLay on Ballot
GOP Will Ask Supreme Court to Delist Former Lawmaker
By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer

AUSTIN, Aug. 3 -- The court fight to take Tom DeLay, the indicted former House majority leader, off the November ballot in Texas will be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican officials said Thursday.

The announcement came hours after a federal appeals court panel refused to allow the Texas Republican Party to replace DeLay, who won the GOP nomination to run for reelection in the March primary and then changed his mind. Some political observers believe this was influenced by polls showing he might lose his suburban Houston congressional district to a Democrat.

DeLay is under indictment in Austin on charges of money laundering and conspiracy relating to illegal corporate donations allegedly being funneled to Texas legislative campaigns in 2002. DeLay resigned from Congress in June and declared his condominium in Northern Virginia his primary residence so the Texas Republican Party could declare him ineligible to run for the 22nd Congressional District seat. His wife, Christine, still lives in their home in Sugar Land, Tex.

The state Republican Party's subsequent attempt to replace DeLay on the ballot was challenged by the Texas Democratic Party, whose lawyers assert that the action violated state law and the Constitution, and was an attempt to remove a weakened GOP candidate from the field.

The Texas Democratic Party won its case in U.S. District Court in Austin. Republican officials appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans.

On Thursday, a panel of three 5th Circuit judges affirmed the lower court ruling, saying that the Texas ineligibility statute was unconstitutionally applied by the state GOP, and that state Republican Chairwoman Tina Benkiser did not meet the standards of the statute "because the public records did not conclusively establish DeLay's ineligibility" to run for reelection.

James Bopp Jr., the attorney for the Texas Republican Party, said he will file an expedited appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. It is in recess until Oct. 1, but it does review emergency applications during this period.

"We have various options in effectuating that appeal and we're considering those options," Bopp said. "We will do what we determine is necessary to move the case and to get a replacement on the ballot prior to the election. The Democratic Party is trying to choose the Republican candidate, which is fundamentally incompatible with our democratic process."

Cris Feldman, an attorney for the Texas Democratic Party, said that the only question regarding DeLay's eligibility to run for office is where he will be living on Nov. 7, Election Day.

"Our position in this case has been that Tom DeLay is eligible to be on the general election ballot, and that his attempts to manipulate the system and remove himself after the primary are in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the state election code," Feldman said. "Both major political parties have nominees on the general election ballot, and it's time to move forward to the election."

Former congressman Nick Lampson is the Democratic nominee for the 22nd Congressional District.

If Texas Democrats prevail, DeLay will have to decide whether to campaign for his former office. He has hinted in recent interviews that he may.

But Dani DeLay Ferro, acting as her father's spokeswoman, said no decision had been made. In a statement issued Thursday, Ferro said "Mr. DeLay continues to reside and work in the Washington, D.C., area. He is exploring his options and has not made any decisions."

Scott Haywood, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the office must certify ballots for the November election by Sept. 6.

If the state Republican Party appeal is still pending then, Haywood said that "we'll probably move forward with the ballot as it is at this point, and right now a judge has ruled DeLay should remain on the ballot."
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