Federal District Judge Sam Sparks has permanently enjoined the Republican Party of Texas from replacing Tom DeLay’s name on the ballot as the party’s nominee for election in Congressional District 22. The basis of his ruling is Article 2, Section 2.2 of the U.S. Constitution: “No person shall be a representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty-five years, and been seven years a citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that State in which he shall have been chosen” (emphasis added). “It is clear to the Court,” Sparks writes, “that the three qualifications listed above are exclusive and may not be changed or expanded in any way by the states.” The fact that DeLay became an inhabitant of Virginia in May is irrelevant in the view of the Court; all that matters, under the Constitution, is whether DeLay is a resident of Texas when he is elected. Election Day is November 7. Since there is no way to know where DeLay will hang his hat on November 7 — he continues to own a home in Sugar Land, for instance — he cannot become ineligible to be a representative until that day. Under Texas law, a political party can only replace a candidate who is ineligible to serve. And since DeLay does not fail any of the three constitutional tests, he is not ineligible.

Since the Republican party will surely appeal the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a very conservative court, this is not yet the end of the story. It is notable that Sparks’ opinion contains considerable research into the “original intent” of the constitutional provision in question, a doctrine beloved by conservatives (and, since you’re no doubt wondering, Sparks is a Republican appointee). Keep in mind that the deadline for finalizing the state ballot is August 25, which doesn’t allow much time for an appeal. The ruling, if it stands, may provide the Democrats with a way of nationalizing the elections around DeLay’s stained reputation, although the Ds would do better to look forward than to look backwards. As for the Rs, the losers include not only DeLay but also State Representative Robert Talton, of Pasadena, and Sugar Land mayor David Wallace, who were the leading candidates to replace DeLay on the ballot.