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: