Judge tosses challenge to Sen. Landrieu residency

AP News
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Posted: Sep 05, 2014 11:37 AM

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu will remain on the Nov. 4 ballot in Louisiana after a state judge dismissed a lawsuit Friday that had claimed the Democrat was not qualified to run for re-election because she lives full-time in Washington.

District Judge Wilson Fields ruled that Republican state Rep. Paul Hollis' lawsuit claiming the three-term senator didn't meet the residency qualifications to represent Louisiana was premature.

Fields said the U.S. Constitution clearly describes the qualifications required of a senator, saying the person must be a resident of the state at the time of the election. The judge said that means a challenge could be filed only after a winner is chosen by voters, in either the Nov. 4 election or the Dec. 6 runoff.

"She has not been elected, and if I read the Constitution in its plain language it says 'when elected,'" Fields told Hollis and his lawyer.

Hollis said he was considering whether to appeal Fields' decision or wait until the outcome of the election to determine if he'll file another challenge.

Under the U.S. Constitution, senators must be an "inhabitant" of the states they seek to represent. Landrieu says she lives with her parents in New Orleans when in Louisiana, and she is registered to vote in Louisiana with that address. Hollis says Landrieu is a "full-time, permanent inhabitant" of Washington, D.C., where she owns a $2.5 million home.

Residency criticism in 2002 and 2008 failed to unseat Landrieu, whose family has strong New Orleans roots — her brother Mitch is in his second term as mayor and the job also was once held by their father. She has held elected office in Louisiana since 1980.

But Republicans have used the lawsuit and the residency questions this cycle to try to define Landrieu as a Washington insider who is disconnected from her home state and too closely allied with Democratic leaders who are unpopular in Louisiana.

"Mary Landrieu is Washington, D.C., through and through. Our Founding Fathers never intended for elected officials to become fixtures in Washington and become out of touch with their home state, as Sen. Landrieu obviously has," Hollis said in a statement.

Republicans hope the criticism weakens Landrieu, who is targeted by the GOP in its effort to gain six Senate seats this fall and retake control of the chamber.

Hollis, from St. Tammany Parish, was running against Landrieu earlier this year. But he dropped out in July and threw his support to Landrieu's main Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy.

The New Orleans house where Landrieu's parents live is owned by a trust in which the senator, her eight siblings and their parents share equally.

Landrieu was subpoenaed to attend the hearing but didn't show up in court Friday. Her lawyer, Tony Clayton, said she intended to attend if the case had made it to trial.