Sec­ond judge blocks re­quest to change lawyers in cen­sus case

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL BAL­SAMO

WASH­ING­TON — A sec­ond fed­eral judge on Wed­nes­day re­jected the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s plan to switch up the le­gal team fight­ing to in­clude a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion on the 2020 cen­sus.

The lat­est or­der , handed down by U.S. Dis­trict Judge Ge­orge Hazel in Mary­land, put up yet another road­block as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion at­tempts to find a le­gal path­way for­ward to in­clud­ing the ques­tion — even after the Supreme Court barred it, at least tem­po­rar­ily. The or­der came just a day after another fed­eral judge in Man­hat­tan is­sued a sim­i­lar rul­ing , say­ing the Jus­tice Depart­ment can’t re­place nine lawyers so late in the dis­pute with­out sat­is­fac­to­rily ex­plain­ing why it’s do­ing so.

The rul­ings deal a sig­nif­i­cant blow to the Jus­tice Depart­ment and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr, who had per­son­ally ap­proved chang­ing up the lit­i­ga­tion team. A third fed­eral judge, who is hear­ing another cen­sus case in San Fran­cisco, has yet to rule on the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s mo­tion to change its lawyers.

Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman Kelly Laco de­clined to com­ment on Wed­nes­day’s rul­ing.

The govern­ment has al­ready be­gun the process of print­ing the cen­sus ques­tion­naire with­out that ques­tion. Over the last week, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has sent mixed sig­nals — first say­ing the ques­tion was o be­fore the pres­i­dent tweeted that his ad­min­is­tra­tion was “ab­so­lutely mov­ing for­ward” with e orts to in­clude it.

Barr said in an in­ter­view ear­lier this week that he sees a le­gal path­way for­ward and that the ad­min­is­tra­tion would take ac­tion in the com­ing days that he be­lieves will al­low the govern­ment to add the con­tro­ver­sial cen­sus query.

The new team came about after a top Jus­tice Depart­ment civil at­tor­ney who was lead­ing the lit­i­ga­tion e ort, James Burn­ham, told Barr that mul­ti­ple peo­ple on the team pre­ferred not to con­tinue, the at­tor­ney gen­eral said. Burn­ham told him it would be a “log­i­cal break­ing point” be­cause a new po­si­tion was go­ing to be ar­gued soon, he added.

In the Mary­land case, the judge said he agreed that Barr has the author­ity to as­sign at­tor­neys to han­dle spe­cific cases, but warned that it would “not cre­ate a clean slate” and that any new team must be pre­pared to an­swer ques­tions about prior state­ments and court fil­ings. The judge said the Jus­tice Depart­ment could re­file its mo­tion, but the court doc­u­ments would need to in­clude ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion about how the agency could en­sure an or­derly tran­si­tion be­tween lawyers and prove it wouldn’t cause any de­lay in the case.


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