The Justice Department announced Sunday night that it is assigning a new team of attorneys to defend President Donald Trump’s continuing attempts to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census.
A statement announcing the move gave no clear rationale for the shift, but legal experts said the lawyers who’ve handled the multi-front legal battle for the Trump administration over the last 15 months were likely to face questions about their credibility in the prolonged fight, since they repeatedly told federal courts that there was an urgent deadline at the end of last month to finalize the language for the census questionnaire.
Now, Trump has ordered officials to keep pursuing avenues to add the citizenship question, even if it means delaying the decennial population survey mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
“As will be reflected in filings tomorrow in the census-related cases, the Department of Justice is shifting these matters to a new team of Civil Division lawyers going forward,” Justice Department Kerri Kupec said. “Since these cases began, the lawyers representing the United States in these cases have given countless hours to defending the Commerce Department and have consistently demonstrated the highest professionalism, integrity, and skill inside and outside the courtroom. The Attorney General appreciates that service, thanks them for their work on these important matters, and is confident that the new team will carry on in the same exemplary fashion as the cases progress.”
It was not immediately clear whether the legal team handling the citizenship question cases asked to be removed from the cases or were directed to relinquish their role.
Some of the difficulties the team defending the administration’s previous decisions were likely to face as the litigation rolled on were evident during a conference call last week between the Justice Department, opponents of the question and a federal judge in Maryland handling a pair of cases challenging the decision to add the query, which critics believe will lead to an undercount of families who include current or recent immigrants.
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