A federal judge in Maryland has denied the Justice Department's request to change its legal team in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration's efforts to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census, one day after another judge in NY denied a similar request in a parallel case.
If the administration refiles the request, the judge instructed the new Justice Department counsel to submit an affidavit "providing unequivocal assurances" that the change to the legal team won't delay the case any further.
The Justice Department's highly unusual move to replace its entire census case trial team - which came from a DOJ division that specializes in these kinds of lawsuits - with a set of lawyers from elsewhere in the department came after a particularly freakish week in the year-long legal battle. This move followed a Supreme Court ruling last week that didn't explicitly shut down the question, but left the door open for the Department to make its case again.
The Supreme Court ruled that although the executive branch has the right to determine the "form and content" of the census, a citizenship question could lead to inaccurate representation in the House of Representatives and in the presidential electoral system.
"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".
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"If anything, that urgency - and the need for efficient judicial proceedings - has only grown since that time", he said.
Last week, the Trump administration signaled it would explore a "path forward" to add the citizenship question to the 2020 census, despite a Supreme Court decision last month that appeared to have effectively blocked the government from going ahead with the controversial change, which critics say is created to expand the political power of the Republican Party.
The Supreme Court blocked the question from appearing on the census in a 5-4 ruling last month. "The Trump administration is acting like it has something to hide, and we won't rest until we know the truth", Dale Ho, director of the group's Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.
"It's one of the ways that we're thinking about doing it, very seriously", he said, despite the fact that the government has already begun the process of printing the census questionnaire without that question. But it was unusual to switch out an entire team of lawyers "in overtime, with no explanation", he added.
He said the Justice Department had insisted that the speedy resolution of lawsuits against adding the question was "a matter of great private and public importance". But he said it must be accompanied by assurances that any more changes won't affect the timeline of the case.
The Hill reports that Barr has not provided specific details on how the citizenship question will be added to the census.