A federal judge in Manhattan denied the Trump administration’s request to change its legal team in the census citizenship question case Tuesday, adding further complications to the tumultuous litigation.
Court rules require government lawyers to give persuasive reasons for the substitutions in sworn affidavits and show the transition will not delay proceedings, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said. The decision was somewhat unusual, since motions to substitute counsel are usually granted as a matter of course.
“Defendants’ motion is patently deficient,” Furman’s order reads. “Defendants provide no reasons, let alone ‘satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel.”
As to the timing issue, Furman noted the Justice Department is scheduled to submit several significant legal filings in the near future, which could make substitutions inappropriate. Furthermore, the attorney withdrawals are especially strange since the case has been litigated on an expedited basis, Furman said.
“This case has been litigated on the premise — based ‘in no small part’ on defendants’ own ‘insistence’ — that the speedy resolution of plaintiffs’ claims is a matter of great private and public importance,” Furman wrote.
The administration said it would shift census matters to a new team of government attorneys on July 8. The Justice Department has not given reasons for the change.
If the government files new substitution motions, attorneys must submit good reasons for their withdrawal and promise to appear in court if necessary, Furman said. That could be necessary because the census plaintiffs will likely ask Furman to sanction government lawyers over alleged misconduct. The plaintiffs claimed to uncover new evidence in May showing the Trump administration added the citizenship question for purely partisan reasons. They say government lawyers actively concealed as much throughout the case.
Attorney General William Barr told the Associated Press Monday that he sees a viable legal path for the government to prevail in the census dispute.
The Supreme Court temporarily barred the administration from adding the citizenship question in June, saying the government had not given a valid explanation for its determination.
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