A federal judge blocked the Justice Department’s attempt to overhaul the team of attorneys representing the government in the Census citizenship case, The New York Times reports.
The judge said he will allow the DOJ to add new attorneys but would not allow the DOJ to ditch the team that had been working on the case after Trump announced his administration would try to add the question despite the Supreme Court blocking their last attempt.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said the DOJ gave “no reasons, let alone satisfactory reasons” to pull its legal team. Only two of the lawyers, who have since left the DOJ, will be allowed to be removed from the case.
The DOJ said Sunday it would replace its legal team without providing an explanation.
“[The] Defendants’ mere ‘expect[ation] that withdrawal of current counsel will [not] cause any disruption’ is not good enough, particularly given the circumstances of this case,” Furman wrote.
The ACLU had asked the court to step in after the DOJ announcement.
“The Justice Department owes the public and the courts an explanation for its unprecedented substitution of the entire legal team that has been working on this case,” ACLU attorney Dale Ho said, according to The Times. “The Trump administration is acting like it has something to hide, and we won’t rest until we know the truth.”
Trump lashed out at the decision with a misleading claim.
“So now the Obama appointed judge on the Census case (Are you a Citizen of the United States?) won’t let the Justice Department use the lawyers that it wants to use. Could this be a first?” Trump tweeted.
To be clear, the judge said the DOJ can use whatever lawyers it wants but cannot pull the ones that had been on the case.
Trump trying circumvent Supreme Court order:
The Trump administration wanted to add a question asking whether respondents are US citizens after a longtime Republican operative wrote a study finding that redistricting based on the number of citizens instead of the total population “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” according to court filings.
The Trump administration insisted that the question was necessary to increase Hispanic turnout and enforce the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court ruled was a made-up excuse. The court, in a decision by Bush-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts, blocked the question citing the “contrived” justification brought by the Trump administration.
Despite the order, Trump has vowed that his team would find a way to add the question to the 2020 census. The move to switch out the lawyers came after attorneys representing the government in court admitted they had no idea what the administration was doing.
Attorney General Bill Barr insisted to The Times Monday that he still believed “the department could find a legal path to adding the citizenship question to the census.”