Texas Republicans on Monday abandoned their court fight to replace former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on the November ballot after being turned back by the Supreme Court.
The decision came after Justice Antonin Scalia rejected Texas Republicans' request to block an appeals court ruling, saying DeLay's name should remain on the ballot.
"I think all our legal avenues are exhausted in terms of affecting the ruling prior to the election," said Jim Bopp Jr., the attorney who argued the Republican Party's case to allow party officials to substitute another candidate for DeLay.
Under indictment on money laundering charges in Texas, DeLay won a March primary election that made him the Republican nominee for Congress from his home district near Houston. In June, he resigned from Congress and said he would not seek re-election.
Democrats had sued to keep DeLay on the ballot, with the former lawmaker's legal troubles becoming a symbol for claims of Republican corruption.
In a statement late Monday, Bopp warned Democrats, "Be careful what you ask for."
The lawyer said Democrats "insisted he run for Congress, now it's up to voters to decide if Democrats are going to be happy" on Election Day.
DeLay could still withdraw from the race, leaving the Republican Party with no candidate on the ballot to face Democrat Nick Lampson, a former House member from Beaumont.
Democrats were undaunted by the prospect of facing DeLay in November and claimed victory.
"Given the choice between facing the voters and facing the courts, DeLay chose the courts and lost handily," said Bill Burton, spokesman for the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
DeLay has previously hinted that he would run if forced to stay on the ballot. The district is heavily Republican, but DeLay must contend with mounting legal bills while trying to raise campaign cash.
DeLay and Texas Republican Party Chairwoman Tina Benkiser were not immediately available for comment.
Benkiser's effort to replace DeLay on the ballot was turned back in a series of court decisions that reached a climax Monday at the Supreme Court. She had sought a delay of an appeals court ruling until Republicans could formally ask the Supreme Court to review the case.
The request was routed to Scalia, who handles appeals from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The New Orleans-based appeals court last week sided with Democrats' claims that, if DeLay is eligible to run but drops out of the race, the Republican Party cannot substitute another candidate.
Less than three hours later, Scalia turned down the request without comment.
"Wow! That was quick," said Cris Feldman, attorney for the Texas Democrats.
"That was a lightning-quick response. We're very pleased by the court's decision to deny the stay, and it's now time to move toward the general election and put this matter behind us," said Feldman.
DeLay is awaiting trial in Texas state court on money laundering and conspiracy charges alleging that illegal corporate cash helped pay for legislative campaigns in 2002.