Activist judge rejects DOJ request to change legal team on census question case, Trump responds

(File photo MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

It seems that at every turn in American politics, a federal judge will eventually play a role in the course of events.

An Obama-appointed federal judge in New York late Tuesday rejected a request from the Justice Department to replace its legal team that had been handling an effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, USA Today reported.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ruled that the DOJ provided “no reasons, let alone satisfactory reasons,” for making the change.

“Any new motions to withdraw shall be supported by a signed and sworn affidavit from each counsel seeking to withdraw stating satisfactory reasons for withdrawing,” Furman wrote. “In the event a 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 the case.”

The importance of avoiding any delays was cited in his ruling.

“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,” the judge said. “If anything, that urgency — and the need for efficient judicial proceedings — has only grown since that time.”

Furman ruled in January the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act by adding the citizenship question — a question seen as recently as the 2000 U.S. Census.

President Trump responded to Furman’s latest ruling, asking online if preventing a change of attorneys is “a first?”

“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?” the president tweeted.

Just before Attorney General William Barr announced this week that a “pathway” has been found that would allow the citizenship question to be added to the 2020 census, the DOJ said it was “shifting” to a new team in the census case.

DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement, “As will be reflected in filings tomorrow in the census-related cases, the Department of Justice is shifting these matters to a new team of Civil Division lawyers going forward.

“Since these cases began, the lawyers representing the United States in these cases have given countless hours to defending the Commerce Department and have consistently demonstrated the highest professionalism, integrity, and skill inside and outside the courtroom,” Kupec added. “The Attorney General appreciates that service, thanks them for their work on these important matters, and is confident that the new team will carry on in the same exemplary fashion as the cases progress.”

With the Supreme Court having blocked the citizenship question, at least temporarily, saying in a 5-4 ruling the administration’s justification “seems to have been contrived” —  Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the four liberals on the high court — there is speculation that some attorneys on the current may not be comfortable trying to work around that ruling.

Barr commented on the planned change Monday while speaking with The New York Times.

“We’re going to reach a new decision, and I can understand if they’re interested in not participating in this phase,” the attorney general said.

At the same time, the request came after it appeared that the administration had given up on pursuing the citizenship question — or, perhaps, the team of lawyers did — only to see President Trump intervene last week to saying that was not the case.

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