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Second judge rejects Justice Department request to change census lawyers

Second judge rejects Justice Department request to change census lawyers

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A federal judge on Wednesday rejected the Department of Justice’s bid to swap attorneys working on a case involving the census citizenship question, the second judge to do so in as many days.

Judge George Hazel wrote that he agrees with the other judge’s “well-reasoned order” rejecting the Trump administration’s proposed change in legal teams, saying “that a shift in counsel at this late stage may be disruptive to an already complicated and expedited case.”

Hazel, an Obama appointee, said that he would ultimately be open to allowing the DOJ lawyers to leave the case and ruled in such a way that will allow the request to be made again. However, he added, “under the unique circumstances of this request, more specific assurances will first need to be provided.”

“As a practical matter, the court cannot fathom how it would be possible, at this juncture, for a wholesale change in defendants’ representation not to have some impact on the orderly resolution of these proceedings unless defendants provide assurance of an orderly transition between the withdrawing attorneys and new counsel,” the judge wrote.

The DOJ on Sunday announced that it would be changing out the entire legal team handling the census citizenship question cases. That came after the Trump administration abruptly reversed its initial decision to no longer pursue the question’s addition to the census, following the Supreme Court’s ruling against the question’s inclusion on the survey.

The withdrawal of lawyers who had been handling the cases across several federal courts for more than a year fueled worries from outside spectators that the attorneys were not comfortable making different legal arguments than the ones they’ve made previously – speculation that Hazel appeared to touch on in his opinion Wednesday.

“Defendants 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 mad,” the judge wrote. “A new DOJ team will need to be prepared to address these, and other, previous representations made by the withdrawing attorneys at the appropriate juncture.”

Hazel is currently weighing whether there was a discriminatory intent behind the question’s addition to the 2020 census, a different legal matter than the one the Supreme Court addressed in their ruling on the question.

Source: The Hill