The federal judge’s decision was the latest development in the continuing effort by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. .
A federal judge in New York on Tuesday blocked the Trump administration’s plan to switch legal teams in the census case, throwing another wrench into the government’s drive to overcome a Supreme Court ruling rejecting its plan to ask every U.S. household how many residents are citizens.
The Justice Department announced on Sunday it was pulling its full team from the census cases and swapping in a fresh crew drawn from other units. Attorney General William Barr said on Monday that some lawyers on the case felt uncomfortable However, officials did not provide a specific reason for doing so, fueling speculation that career DOJ lawyers could have refused to continue working on the case.
That came after President Trump’s surprise announcement that his administration would continue to pursue adding a citizenship question to the census, after the DOJ initially said otherwise. The Supreme Court ruled last month against its inclusion on the survey for the time being. “Defendants’ mere ‘expectation that withdrawal of current counsel will not cause any disruption’ is not good enough,” Furman wrote, adding that the motion is “patently deficient.”
The judge raised questions as to how the Justice Department could reasonably meet upcoming deadlines set in the case, if the entire legal team was being swapped out for a new one.
“As this court observed many months ago, this case has been litigated on the premise based ‘in no small part’ on Defendants’ own ‘insistence’ that the speedy resolution of Plaintiffs’ claims is a matter of great private and public importance,” Furman wrote. “If anything, that urgency — and the need for efficient judicial proceedings — has only grown since that time.”
Furman ordered that every DOJ lawyer who wants to withdraw from the case to submit a signed and sworn affidavit giving “satisfactory reasons” for leaving the litigation.
“In the event any new motion is filed, new counsel for Defendants shall also file an affidavit providing unequivocal assurances that the substitution of counsel will not delay further litigation of this case (or any future related case),” he wrote.
However, he did allow for two attorneys to be pulled from the case, as they had already left the Justice Department or DOJ’s civil division.
The decision to pull the attorneys was a highly unusual one, raising questions about whether the lawyers felt comfortable continuing on in a legal case that would effectively require them to work around a Supreme Court ruling. The attorneys would also have to present another line of reasoning behind adding the question to the 2020 census, after arguing in court otherwise for more than a year.
Attorney General William Barr addressed the surprise staffing switch during an interview with The New York Times on Monday.
“We’re going to reach a new decision, and I can understand if they’re interested in not participating in this phase,” Barr told the newspaper.
The Supreme Court, in the 6-5 decision last month, said the rationale for adding the question to the census – enforcing the Voting Rights Act – didn’t match up with the evidence in the case. But they sent the matter back to the Commerce Department to provide another reason for the question’s inclusion.
Trump has been determined to see the question on the census, and bashed the Supreme Court over the ruling in a tweet earlier Tuesday.