The U.S. District judge who called for an emergency conference call after President Donald Trump tweeted something about the 2020 Census that "directly contradicted the position" Department of Justice attorneys put forth a day before has denied DOJ attorneys' motion to withdraw from the case.
Judge Jesse Furman, who ruled in January to block the effort to include the question on the census, issued a ruling on Tuesday calling the government's request to swap out nine attorneys working on the case with new lawyers from the department's Civil Division "patently deficient".
The "court can not 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", Judge George Hazel wrote Wednesday.
"The Justice Department owes the public and the courts an explanation for its unprecedented substitution of the entire legal team that has been working on this case", said plaintiffs' attorney Dale Ho of the ACLU.
A statement announcing the abrupt switch did not provide an explanation for the decision, but the move has prompted speculation that Justice Department lawyers assigned to the case refused to come up with a new rationale for getting the question on the census after repeatedly citing voting rights efforts in court. It also hinted at the possibility that administration officials feared the lawyers would no longer be viewed as credible by judges presiding over the case.
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"If anything, that urgency - and the need for efficient judicial proceedings - has only grown since that time", Furman said.
Hazel stressed "the need for a transition of counsel that does not disrupt the orderly administration of justice". "But, unlike the local rules in the Southern District of NY, the local rules in this District do not include a requirement that attorneys provide "satisfactory reasons for withdrawal'".
Afterward, the Commerce Department's Census Bureau began printing census questionnaires without the question and the Department of Justice signaled it would not attempt to continue the legal fight. "We can not ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given [by the Trump administration]", the majority ruling said at the time.
Furman's refusal came in a case that has proceeded on an unusual legal path since numerous states and municipalities across the country challenged the government's announcement early past year that it meant to add the citizenship question to the census for the first time since 1950.
The Supreme Court blocked the question from appearing on the census in a 5-4 ruling last month.
"The staffing change the Department has made will not affect the posture of the case or cause any disruption in this matter", DOJ attorneys wrote.