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Appeals Court Will Hear DeLay Ballot Dispute

Things seem to have cooled down (well, politically) in Texas's 22nd Congressional District -- at least until August. A federal appeals court has agreed to move up a hearing on former House Majority Leader Tom Delay's ballot status to July 31.

Federal Judge Sam Sparks ruled on July 6 that DeLay's name must remain on the November election ballot along with those of Democratic nominee Nick Lampson and Libertarian Bob Smither. DeLay had been declared ineligible to run by Texas Republican Party Chairman Tina Benkiser after he retired from Congress on June 8, following an indictment by a Texas grand jury on state money laundering charges and amid scandals involving several political associates and former staffers.

The Texas Democratic Party, however, sued to keep DeLay's name on the ballot, on the assumption that virtually any other Republican candidate would beat Lampson on Election Day in this GOP stronghold. After a long legal battle Judge Sparks ruled that DeLay 's name must stay on the ballot. Sparks said DeLay could not prove he would not be residing in Texas on Election Day. The judge also noted that DeLay's wife continues to reside in their Sugar Land, Tex. home, and that DeLay still has a valid Texas driver's license. Sparks further said that replacing DeLay would set a precedent of replacing any candidate with a low chance of success at the polls with a more acceptable nominee.

The Texas Republican Party promptly filed an appeal and, in the most recent development, successfully applied for an expedited court schedule in order to meet the Texas candidate replacement deadline. Under the new schedule, Texas GOP Chair Tina Benkiser must have submitted her brief by July 14, the Texas Democratic Party's must submit their brief by July 21 (this Friday) and Benkiser her reply by July 26. The case will then be submitted to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on July 31.

Though there is no guarantee that the Appeals Court will uphold Judge Sparks's ruling, Texas Democrats have won a temporary victory by preventing the Texas Republican Party from choosing a candidate to replace DeLay. This setback severely curtails the amount of time the new candidate will have to campaign before the November election, which can only help Lampson's chances. This race only gets stranger, however, as DeLay has not ruled out the possibility he will run for his former seat. While speaking to a group of supporters in Sugar Land on July 7th, DeLay said that if he "is forced to be on the ballot, well, they (the Texas Democratic Party) may get exactly what they want."

-- Kate Deming, washingtonpost.com

By washingtonpost.com Editors  |  July 20, 2006; 7:36 AM ET
Categories:  House  
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