Second Federal Judge Prevents DOJ Lawyers from Bailing on Census Case

Attorney General William Barr speaks to reporters after a tour of a federal prison in Edgefield

A federal judge in NY late Tuesday blocked the Justice Department from assigning a new team of lawyers to defend President Donald Trump's ongoing efforts to include a citizenship question to the U.S. Census in 2020.

"Defendants provide no reasons, let alone 'satisfactory reasons, ' for the substitution of counsel", Judge Jesse Furman said.

Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's voting rights project, said the Justice Department's move to switch legal teams was "unprecedented".

After staking their entire strategy on the claim that the census question had to be expedited and that America can not afford even a moment's delay, the Justice Department asked the court to authorize a wholesale substitution of its legal team days before briefs are due.

But in a filing to the judge in Maryland, the Justice Department said its new attorneys had already started working on the cases and argued that the attorney general has the authority to send any officer of the agency to a state or district to represent the U.S.

But President Trump later said he had ordered the departments to do "whatever necessary" to include the question, and pushed back against the notion that his administration had abandoned plans to do so.

U.S. District Judge George Hazel blocked the move by the DOJ to withdraw its original team of lawyers from the case.

Hazel said changing the legal team in the middle of the court proceedings would disrupt the case.

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Hazel stressed "the need for a transition of counsel that does not disrupt the orderly administration of justice".

In New York, Furman did allow two attorneys to withdraw from the cases.

The Trump administration has been pushing to add a citizenship question to the census, an effort that is still ongoing despite the fact that late last month the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to it by blocking the addition of the question for the time being. "The Trump administration is acting like it has something to hide, and we won't rest until we know the truth".

Critics, and the Census Bureau itself, agree that adding the question will lead to a significant undercount of the US population, as immigrant households may be fearful to fill out the document if they have non-citizen family members.

To now risk a slowdown by changing lawyers with no explanation is unwarranted, he said.

"The attorney general says he can get the president out of the weeds".

"As this court observed many months ago, this case has been litigated on the premise-based "in no small part" on Defendants" own "insist [ence]'-that the speedy resolution of Plaintiffs' claims is a matter of great private and public importance", he wrote.

But the department reversed itself after Donald Trump promised to keep trying to add the question and notified judges in three similar legal challenges that it planned to find a new legal path to adding the question to the census.

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