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Court: DeLay must stay on the ballot

From Mark Preston and Candy Crowley
CNN Washington Bureau
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NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling against the Texas Republican Party in its effort to remove former Rep. Tom DeLay from the ballot in his old Sugar Land district this November.

The state GOP will appeal "expeditiously to the Supreme Court," party officials said.

"We do intend to appeal the decision," Gretchen Essell, spokeswoman for the Texas Republican Party, told CNN. Through the party's attorney, James Bopp Jr., state GOP chairwoman Tina Benkiser repeated this plan.

DeLay's daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro, who is acting as a spokeswoman for her father, described the court's decision in an e-mail message to CNN as "just another step in the process."

DeLay, who is fighting state money-laundering charges, announced his resignation from Congress shortly after winning the GOP nomination for a 12th term in March.

In an effort to keep his seat in Republican hands, DeLay announced that he was changing his legal residence to Virginia -- a move he said would disqualify him from November's race and allow the GOP to pick a new nominee that would have a better chance of winning in November.

But U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled last month that DeLay in effect withdrew from the race, and Texas law prohibits the party from replacing a candidate under those circumstances.

Allowing the GOP to replace DeLay after voters have chosen their nominee "would be a serious abuse of the election system and a fraud on the voters, which the court will not condone," Sparks wrote.

DeLay faced what appeared to be a tough November race in Texas's 22nd District against Nick Lampson, a former Democratic congressman who lost his seat after DeLay engineered a bitterly fought mid-census redistricting of U.S. House districts in Texas in 2003.

When asked Wednesday night whether he would campaign if he was forced to stay on the ballot, DeLay said, "Well, we'll have to see. I'll have to make a decision when they make that decision."

On Thursday, DeLay's daughter 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."

Texas Republicans tell CNN that one way to get around the issue would be to mount a write-in campaign for another Republican candidate, but write-ins have a notoriously bad victory record.

A spokesman for Lampson told CNN that he is not focusing on the ruling and instead is looking forward to November.

"We think it is time to go ahead and move on with the election and put it to the voters," said Mike Malaise, Lampson's campaign manager. Malaise noted that Lampson was not involved in the lawsuit.

But Malaise criticized DeLay for his decision to resign his seat at a time when the country is facing several big issues.

"Voters down here in southeast Texas know our country is at war, it is in the middle of hurricane season, and we are facing an important debate to Texans on immigration reform," Malaise said. "And all this time the voters of the 22nd Congressional District have been without representation."

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Illinois, who is tasked with running House Democratic campaign efforts, said he was "shocked" at the decision because in the past DeLay has successfully sidestepped anything that might hurt him personally or politically.

"There is some poetic justice here," Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a conference call with reporters. "He thought he was going to be too cute by half."

Attempts by CNN to reach DeLay for comment were unsuccessful.

Still facing money-laundering charges

DeLay gave up his leadership post in the House of Representatives after a grand jury in Austin indicted him on state money-laundering charges. Prosecutors accuse him of improperly steering corporate funds to state legislative candidates in 2002, when Republican victories made the mid-census redistricting possible.

He has denied any wrongdoing, telling colleagues in his June farewell speech that he served "at all times honorably and honestly."

The state Democratic Party went to court to keep Republicans from putting a replacement for DeLay on the ballot. (Full story)

DeLay has registered to vote in Virginia, claims a condominium in the Washington suburbs as his home address and authorized the House to start deducting Virginia income taxes from his paycheck before his resignation.

But Texas Democrats argued that declaring DeLay ineligible based on his residency claim would violate state election law and the U.S. Constitution, which requires a House candidate to be a resident of the state on Election Day. They noted that he still keeps a house in the Houston suburbs, where his wife lives -- and where DeLay himself was served with a subpoena recently.

Sparks, who was named to the bench by the first President Bush in 1991, ruled that state Republicans could not guarantee that DeLay would be living in Virginia on the day of the general election and could not declare him ineligible until afterward.

DeLay is an outspoken conservative nicknamed "The Hammer" for his strong-arm tactics in the House. In addition to the money-laundering charge, he suffered politically from his association with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to a variety of corruption charges and has been cooperating with investigators looking into allegations of corruption on Capitol Hill.

While DeLay has not been linked to wrongdoing in the Abramoff probe, two of his former staffers -- Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon -- have pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from the investigation.

Former Rep. Tom DeLay's name will appear on the Texas ballot this fall, a court ruled Thursday.



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