By Erwin Seba

The Texas Republican Party said on Thursday it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take Tom DeLay, the indicted former House of Representatives Republican leader, off the November congressional ballot.

The announcement came within hours of a U.S. Appeals Court decision that the state Republican Party could not replace DeLay, who said he would not seek re-election and resigned from Congress in May after polls showed he might lose his suburban Houston district to a Democrat.

"The Democratic Party wants to force Tom DeLay to withdraw, so that their nominee runs unopposed, or to force Tom DeLay to run, as the court has now decided, so that their nominee will be running against a candidate that is ineligible to serve," said James Bopp, an attorney for the Texas GOP.

"We’ll be happy to meet them at the courthouse," said Chris Feldman, an attorney for the Texas Democratic Party, which sued to prevent DeLay from being replaced.

After resigning, DeLay moved to Virginia so the Texas Republican Party chairwoman could declare him ineligible under state election law.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said on Thursday the Texas Republican Party’s attempt to replace DeLay would violate the U.S. Constitution’s qualifications clause, which requires a congressional candidate reside in the state where the district is located on election day.

In an opinion accompanying the decision, the appeals court said DeLay’s proof of Virginia residency did not outweigh his pledge to be eligible for office when he filed for re-election, and his decades-long residency in Texas.

The appeals court decision upheld a lower court ruling.

"It’s time to get on with the election," said Boyd Richie, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. "It’s time for Tom DeLay to decide if he is a Texan and if he will run."

DeLay’s wife continues to live in their suburban Houston home.

Republicans have claimed the Democrats want to keep DeLay on the ballot to use his legal troubles in Texas over campaign fund-raising and links to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to improve Democratic chances in the November election.

Democrats claimed DeLay should have stepped down before winning the Republican primary in March.

On Thursday evening, DeLay did not rule out a possible re-election bid.

"Mr. DeLay continues to reside and work in the Washington D.C. area," according to a statement issued by his office. "He is exploring his options and has not made any decisions."

DeLay’s statement called the appeals court decision "just another step in the process to allow the voters of the 22nd District a choice on the ballot in December."

DeLay’s Democratic challenger is former Rep. Nick Lampson, who lost a suburban Houston seat after DeLay pushed a congressional redistricting plan through the Texas Legislature in 2003.

© 2006 Reuters