The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to fast track the case that could determine former Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) ballot status, though even a decision favorable to Republicans is unlikely to come down before early August.
That means DeLay’s potential replacement on the November general election ballot will have just three months — or less — to campaign against former Rep. Nick Lampson (D), who has $2.2 million in the bank as he seeks to flip the solidly Republican, suburban Houston 22nd district.
“We’re pleased [that this situation] has given us a window to get Nick Lampson’s positive message out without the typical partisan bickering back and forth,” said Lampson campaign manager Mike Malaise.
The Texas Republican Party went to the federal appeals court after U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks recently ruled that DeLay could not be declared ineligible for the ballot — and replaced with a new candidate appointed by 22nd district Republicans — on the grounds that he is no longer a Texas resident.
The state GOP, following Texas election law, made that declaration in early June after DeLay resigned from Congress and relocated his official residence to Alexandria, Va. The move was made in concert with DeLay, as Republicans sought to replace the former Majority Leader with a candidate free of his ethical and legal baggage and better positioned to beat Lampson.
The Texas Democratic Party sued successfully to block the move, with the GOP-appointed Sparks ruling that Texas’ requirement that a candidate be a state resident violated the Constitution, which states Congressional candidates must only be a resident of the state they are running in on Election Day. Sparks said there was no way to prove in advance of Nov. 7 that DeLay would not be a Texas resident on that date.
Attorney James Bopp Jr., representing the Texas GOP, described the 5th Circuit’s decision to grant his client’s motion for an expedited hearing of the appeal as “logical,” saying it gives Republicans a chance for a meaningful victory. The state will begin programming voting machines and printing absentee ballots in late August, making the expedited hearing crucial to the GOP’s plan to replace DeLay with a new candidate.
“We feel really confident” in the merits of our case, Bopp said. “Every state has laws that determine the eligibility of federal candidates as part of their procedures for regulating elections.”
According the 5th Circuit’s expedited briefing schedule, a brief from the Texas Republican Party was due in court Friday, with one due from the Texas Democratic Party on July 21. The state GOP’s reply brief is due July 26, with the case scheduled to be submitted to the court on July 31.
The court will announce one week prior to that date whether oral arguments will be held on July 31, or if it will simply review the case without hearing oral arguments. Bopp said he would prefer an opportunity to argue before the 5th Circuit, but said it wouldn’t be uncommon for the court to make a decision absent oral arguments.