“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,” DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said in a statement. “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 department gave no reason for the switch, but the move is another dramatic shift in President Donald Trump’s effort to add the question to the census. The Washington Post on Sunday noted that a person familiar with the case said some of the department’s career attorneys were uncomfortable with the president’s insistence on the issue. The New York Times reported that no DOJ attorneys in the federal programs branch, which traditionally represents the government in court, will be on the census case as it advances in the courts.
“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,” Kupec said.
Last week, government lawyers told a federal judge the White House would continue to move forward with its efforts to add the fraught citizenship question to the census, despite legal obstacles. Days earlier the Trump administration said it would drop the question after a Supreme Court decision temporarily barred the government from adding it.
The Census Bureau began printing forms for the tally after the decision, and had long noted that it needed a decision by June 30, the agency’s printing deadline.
But the administration reversed course a day later. Trump called reports he was abandoning the question “FAKE!” and said he was pressing ahead. Justice Department lawyers told a federal judge on Friday that they would continue argue the case, and Trump said he was mulling various strategies to get the question approved, including an executive order.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters on Friday. “We could also add an addition on. So we could start the printing now and maybe do an addendum after we get a positive decision. So we’re working on a lot of things including an executive order.”
Civil rights groups have vowed to fight the White House once again should it attempt to add the question. The ACLU has argued it is meant to intimidate people of color and immigrant communities and would result in a massive undercount of up to 6.5 million people.
The census, mandated by the Constitution to count everyone living in the U.S., is used to allocate federal resources and also to allot seats in the House of Representatives.