July 09, 2019

Census Judge Denies Trump Administration’s Bid for New Team
(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge rejected a request by the Trump administration to assign a new legal team to a lawsuit that blocked the U.S. from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan called the government’s request “patently deficient,” adding that the U.S. had provided “no reasons, let alone ’satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel.” He said the government has to show that replacing the team won’t add further delay to the suit.The ruling reflects Furman’s frustration with a Justice Department that initially rushed the case to the Supreme Court but is now scrambling to comply with President Donald Trump’s demand for a new legal strategy to salvage the citizenship query.The Supreme Court put the administration’s plan on hold because, it said, its rationale for the query was “contrived.” The government had claimed the deadline for resolving the issue was June 30, to allow enough time to print for 2020.“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,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project and one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers in the case. “The Trump administration is acting like it has something to hide, and we won’t rest until we know the truth.”The government claimed the citizenship question would help enforce the Voting Rights Act, but opponents claim new evidence shows the true intention was to increase the political power of Republicans by skewing the results to favor white voters.The Trump administration initially accepted the Supreme Court’s ruling and said it had begun printing forms without the question. But in a tweet, the president ordered the government to re-examine the issue, prompting the Justice Department to reverse course and consider alternative ways to get the question - “Is this person a citizen of the United States” - on the survey.The administration hasn’t said why it sought to replace the 11 lawyers on the case, many of whom have been on it since it was filed in early 2018. The Washington Post, citing a person familiar with the matter, said that some of the original lawyers had concerns with the way the government was handling it.The government’s lawyers have filed similar requests to withdraw from suits filed in California and Maryland. Judges there haven’t ruled on those requests yet.The Justice Department’s “mere expectation that withdrawal of current counsel will not cause any disruption is not good enough,” Furman wrote in an order on Tuesday. The judge said the Justice Department is free to make a new motion, “stating satisfactory reasons for withdrawing at this stage of the litigation.”Possible SanctionsBut the judge said any new motion to withdraw must be supported by a signed and sworn affidavit from each lawyer giving “satisfactory reasons” for the request.Furman also pointed to a pending motion by the plaintiffs to sanction the government for allegedly putting forward false testimony about the motivation behind the question.The Justice Department declined to comment on the judge’s ruling.The New York Immigration Coalition, which is suing over the census, told Furman last week that consultant Thomas Hofeller, who died in August, concluded in a 2015 study that the citizenship question would ultimately give Republicans and white voters more clout. The immigration group argues its evidence shows the government falsely claimed it wants the citizenship data to help enforce the federal Voting Rights Act.Furman noted in his ruling that this “is not the first time” Justice Department lawyers sought to leave the case. In August 2018, attorneys with the Southern District of New York, which usually represents the federal government in New York, withdrew.Furman blocked the citizenship question in January after a two-week trial. He knocked down several attempts by the government to derail the challenge, criticizing its efforts as “puzzling, if not sanctionable” and saying they showed an “extraordinary lack of respect” for judicial norms.“Despite the president attempting to fire his lawyers, this is not an episode of “The Apprentice,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.(Updates with background of case.)To contact the reporters on this story: Bob Van Voris in federal court in Manhattan at rvanvoris@bloomberg.net;Erik Larson in New York at elarson4@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net, Joe SchneiderFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.



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