Judge blocks government lawyers from quitting census fight

Clay Curtis
July 11, 2019

A federal judge in NY blocked the Justice Department on Tuesday from replacing nearly all of the lawyers defending the Trump administration's efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, saying the government had not offered adequate reasoning for why it wanted new counsel.

The Justice Department offered no explanation for why the lawyers were withdrawing and, on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said the government's request to switch lawyers was "patently deficient".

"The court shares the concerns articulated in Judge Furman's well-reasoned order denying defendants" parallel motion in the related NY case that a shift in counsel at this late stage may be disruptive to an already complicated and expedited case", Hazel wrote.

Napolitano also pointed out that attorneys for the Justice Department "cannot contradict what they said earlier", explaining that Trump "got them in a little bit of trouble" on that end.

The Department of Justice declined comment.

He said the department could resubmit its request if it provided "satisfactory reasons" for the legal team's withdrawal and promises that the lawyers who worked the case previously would make themselves available if needed at any future hearings.

But nine other lawyers were ordered to remain on the case - for now.

"If anything, that urgency-and the need for efficient judicial proceedings-has only grown since that time".

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"I think that judges like Furman and Hazel are sick of DOJ and Trump perverting the federal justice system and having a client like Trump who places counsel in compromising situations", Tobias said.

After the Supreme Court struck down the administration's initial move to add the citizenship question, the DOJ said publicly and in court at the beginning of last week that it was backing down in the fight.

The Supreme Court blocked the question from appearing on the census in a 5-4 ruling last month. "So they kicked the can, and then the administration said, 'OK we won't put it on there, ' and then the President injected himself into this".

Furman said the government could re-submit its request to replace attorneys only with a sworn statement by each lawyer explaining satisfactory reasons to withdraw so late.

Furman's decision came after the Justice Department announced late Sunday that it was assigning a new team of lawyers to defend the president's ongoing efforts to include the citizenship question to the census. But he said it must be accompanied by assurances that any more changes won't affect the timeline of the case.

"That's why they're fighting the census", she added.

Civil rights groups have argued that asking about citizenship status may discourage immigrants from participating in the census, producing an undercount of immigrants, particularly immigrants of color, in official tallies.

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