Published: Thu, July 11, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

The Trump administration’s failed lawyer swap epitomizes its larger census problem

The Trump administration’s failed lawyer swap epitomizes its larger census problem

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 department attempted to change the team of lawyers after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 27 against the first attempt by President Donald Trump's administration to add the citizenship question, calling the rationale "contrived".

"Defendants provide no reasons, let alone 'satisfactory reasons, ' for the substitution counsel", he wrote.

A federal judge in NY rejected the Justice Department's attempt to swap out its lawyers in the case.

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.

"The Department of Justice is shifting these matters to a new team of Civil Division lawyers going forward", spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

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

"If anything, that urgency - and the need for efficient judicial proceedings - has only grown since that time", Furman wrote. It also hinted at the possibility that administration officials feared the lawyers would no longer be viewed as credible by judges presiding over the cases.


Notably, the judge puts the government's own arguments prior to the Supreme Court's ruling against them, where it had repeatedly called for expediting the case in order to resolve the citizenship question dispute and get the census printed.

'I agree with him that the Supreme Court decision was wrong, ' Barr said in reference to Trump's stance.

'They want to make sure that people, certain people, are counted...'

Furman's refusal came in a case that has proceeded on an unusual legal path since numerous states and municipalities across the country challenged the government's announcement early a year ago that it meant to add the citizenship question to the census for the first time since 1950.

The order, Samberg-Champion said, "suggests that Judge Furman is viewing these departing lawyers as, essentially, witnesses to potential misconduct whose testimony may be relevant to a sanctions motion".

Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the United States.

The Department of Justice said on July 7 that it was shifting legal teams.

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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