Another federal judge rejects DOJ plan to shake up census team

Another federal judge rejects DOJ plan to shake up census team

WASHINGTON–Another federal judge added his voice Wednesday in opposition to a Justice Department request to replace its legal team that had been leading an effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Maryland District Judge George Hazel’s order comes a day after a New York federal judge also rejected the abrupt change sought by the government.

“As a practical matter, the court cannot fathom how it would be possible, at this juncture, for a wholesale change in defendants’ representation not have some impact on the orderly resolution of these proceedings,” Hazel wrote in a six-page order, adding that the government would have to provide “assurance of an orderly transition” if it persisted in appointing new lawyers.

Describing an already voluminous court record amassed during the past 15 months, including hundreds of pages of briefing documents with new, fast-approaching deadlines, Hazel said “time is of the essence.”

“The court wholeheartedly agrees that it is the attorney general who has the authority to determine which officers of the Department of Justice shall attend to the interest of the United States,” Hazel said. “But (the government) must realize that a change in counsel does not create a clean slate for a party to proceed as if prior representations made to the court were not in fact made.”

The Department of Justice first signaled Sunday that it intended to make a change, issuing a statement saying the department was “shifting these matters to a new team of Civil Division lawyers going forward.”

The department, however, provided no additional explanation for the move.

More: Supreme Court blocks 2020 census citizenship question for now, handing Trump administration a major defeat

More: Department of Justice hands 2020 census-related questions to new team of lawyers

Hazel’s order applies new pressure on President Donald Trump who has continued to push for the controversial citizenship question in the face of a Supreme Court ruling last month that blocked the effort, for now.

“The evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation…,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “The sole stated reason seems to have been contrived.”

The citizenship question has faced strong criticism from opponents who have said that its inclusion would prevent millions of non-citizens from responding to the census out of fear that the information could be used for immigration enforcement, altering the allocation of federal funding.

Adding the question could also cost seats in Congress for California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois and Arizona — states with large non-citizen populations.

Despite the setback at the Supreme Court, Attorney General William Barr and Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, have expressed confidence in the administration’s odds of success in amending the census questionnaire.

Last week, Trump said he might issue an executive order to push the question onto the census, a move that would likely be challenged in courts by advocacy groups and opponents. 

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