Declaring that “Texans can do better than our indicted attorney general who is charged with criminal fraud,” Austin attorney Justin Nelson Wednesday announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Ken Paxton in 2018.
“Justice is for all,” Nelson said in a statement released Wednesday. “Nobody is above the law.”
Nelson is the first candidate to announce plans to challenge Paxton, who is under indictment for securities fraud.
Paxton’s trial has been delayed three times. A new trial date has yet to be set, probably for sometime early next year. The primary is in March, and if Paxton is the nominee, there is no way under state election law to remove his name from the ballot, except under very specific circumstances, even if he is convicted and asked to be removed from the ballot, unless he were to waive any appeal.
The exceptions are that the State Republican Executive Committee could replace Paxton if he were stricken with a catastrophic illness, certified by two licensed physicians, that would keep him from filling the office, or if he were elected or appointed to fill another elective office or became the nominee for another office.
But Paxton could win re-election and continue to serve as attorney general even as a convicted felon until he exhausted his appeals.
So far no one is challenging Paxton in the Republican primary.
A Houston native, Nelson, 42, is a partner at Susman Godfrey LLP. A graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, Nelson clerked for retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Nelson is a practicing lawyer specializing in high-stakes civil litigation.
Nelson is also the founder and former president of One Nation One Vote, a non-profit dedicated to replacing the Electoral College with a national popular vote. Under the organization’s plan, that could be accomplished in time for the 2020 presidential election without a constitutional amendment if enough states agreed to cast their electoral votes for the national popular vote winner. If that process had applied in 2016, Hillary Clinton would be president.
Nelson has practiced and taught constitutional law, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
Before attending law school, Nelson spent four summers in Latin America leading education and public health projects with the Houston-based non-profit organization Amigos de las Americas.