Not So Fast! ACLU Opposes DOJ Legal Team Shake Up So Late In Census Case

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 13: U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivers remarks during the National Police Week 31st Annual Candlelight Vigil on the National Mall May 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. Thousands of law enforce... WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 13: U.S. Attorney General William Barr delivers remarks during the National Police Week 31st Annual Candlelight Vigil on the National Mall May 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. Thousands of law enforcement officers, their supporters and family members of those officers who have died in the line of duty gathered on the National Mall to remember and honor them. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS

The ACLU is taking issue with the Trump administration’s attempt to shake up its legal team so late in the census citizenship case.

On Monday, the organization — one of several that challenged the census citizenship question — asked the judge to order an explanation from the Justice Department as to why several lawyers on the administration’s team are being replaced before he allows them to withdraw from the case. The ACLU said it was seeking such assurances so that an “en masse” withdrawal by DOJ attorneys would not “prejudice” it or otherwise “hinder resolution of this case.”

The ACLU is also requesting that the DOJ attorneys “whose representations or conduct is at issue in the pending or forthcoming motions” stay under the court’s jurisdiction. The ACLU has already requested sanctions for two government witnesses for alleged misleading testimony. Its latest filings referenced the about-face the administration has done on whether the census forms needed to be finalized by June 30.

“Particularly in light of Defendants’ rapidly shifting representations to this Court and others, the Court should not grant these motions absent a clear articulation of ‘satisfactory reasons’ for these withdrawals and unequivocal assurances from Defendants that these withdrawals will not delay the conduct of this case,” the filing said.

The filing came a day after the Justice Department announced that it was making major changes to the legal team defending the Trump administration’s move to add the citizenship question to the census. The move prompted speculation that the career attorneys at the Department’s Federal Programs division — which typically represents the government in these kinds of lawsuits — were uncomfortable with the direction the administration is planning on going in the case.

Attorney General Bill Barr said Monday that he didn’t know the details of why the original team was exiting the case but that he could “understand if they’re interested in not participating in this phase.”

The last week has been an extraordinary one for the Justice Department in its handling of the census case. After the Supreme Court ruled against it in one of the the legal challenges to the citizenship question, its lawyers said in court and its press shop confirmed publicly last Tuesday that the administration was moving forward with implementing the 2020 census without the question — essentially conceding the year-long legal fight to ask census takers their citizenship status.

The next day, Trump tweeted that those statements were “fake” and that his administration was continuing to fight to add the question back on. Doing do so would require that Justice Department to admit that the June 30 printing deadline for the forms it repeatedly pointed to in court — in successfully getting the case expedited to the Supreme Court — was bogus.

Nearly a dozen career attorneys filed their withdrawals in the various census citizenship question cases on Monday, as did James Burnham, the Trump appointed deputy attorney general in the civil division. According to the filings, they’re being replaced by a mix of political and career attorneys in the DOJ Consumer Protection Branch, its Office of Immigration Litigation, and the Civil Fraud Section.

Read the ACLU filing below:

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest Muckraker
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: