A federal judge rejected the Trump administration’s effort to change its legal team in the census citizenship question case, ruling Tuesday that the government gave no reason why it wanted to pull the lawyers who’ve argued the case for months.
“Defendants provide no reasons, let alone ‘satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel,” Judge Jesse Furman said.
He said the case is speeding along and it’s been the administration that’s been pushing for that speed.
To now risk a slowdown by changing lawyers with no explanation is unwarranted, he said.
“If anything, that urgency — and the need for efficient judicial proceedings — has only grown since that time,” he said.
He did allow two lawyers to withdraw, and said the government could come back with a new argument. But he said it must be accompanied by assurances that any more changes won’t affect the timeline of the case.
He did allow two lawyers to withdraw because one is no longer with the Justice Department and the other is no longer in the civil division.
But nine other lawyers were ordered to remain on the case — for now.
Judge Furman said the government could come back with a new argument giving reasons for the change. But he said it must be accompanied by assurances that any more changes won’t affect the timeline of the case.
Similar requests to change lawyers are pending before federal judges in California and Maryland, too.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a chief litigant in the New York case, had said it feared the Justice Department was trying to pull a fast one by withdrawing lawyers who may have misled the court. The ACLU said it wants assurances the court will retain jurisdiction over the lawyers, so the judge can slap sanctions on them if he rules they did intentionally mislead the court.
Judge Furman said any new Justice Department filing will have to agree that the lawyers remain subject to sanctions and their presence can be ordered “at any future hearings.”
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project, said the Justice Department’s move to switch legal teams was “unprecedented.”
“The Trump administration is acting like it has something to hide, and we won’t rest until we know the truth,” he said.