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Updated at 18:03 ET
Two federal judges rejected requests from the Trump administration to completely swap its team of lawyers who defended its willingness to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
This decision is a setback for the administration as it prepares to announce its new strategy for integrating the issue into census forms after the Supreme Court decided last month to keep it for the time being.
US District Judge George Hazel of Maryland wrote on Wednesday: "In practice, the Court does not understand how it would be possible, at this point, that a global change in the representation of the defendants would not have occurred. does not affect the orderly resolution of this proceeding unless the defendants guarantee an orderly transition between retiring counsel and their new counsel. "
In a notice released Tuesday, US District Judge Jesse Furman of New York also denied the DOJ's request to replace his legal team. He called the "manifestly deficient" application of the administration, in part because the Justice Ministry did not motivate the withdrawal of lawyers who worked on the cases for months, as it is the case required by a local court rule for the federal court in Manhattan.
Furman also said that he was not satisfied with the "mere" expectation of the administration that replacing lawyers while the legal battle continues would not be disruptive. If they are not resolved quickly, the prosecution could jeopardize the Census Bureau's ability to formally begin, in January, the constitutionally enumerated count of every person living in the United States.
Justice spokeswoman Kelly Laco said the ministry refused to comment on the two decisions.
But in a court filing in Maryland, the Justice Department said that his new lawyers had already started working on the cases and asserted that the Attorney General had the power to send any police officer to his office. agency in a state or district to represent the United States.
"Staff changes made by the ministry will not affect the situation of the case and will not interfere with this case," wrote the lawyers of the Ministry of Justice.
The plaintiffs had asked Justice Hazel to ask the Trump administration to explain why she wanted to exchange her legal team and confirm that it would not delay the proceedings.
In New York, Furman has authorized two lawyers to withdraw from the case. One had already left the Department of Justice and the other, his civilian division.
But other lawyers who wish to withdraw from the New York prosecution will have to provide affidavits explaining why they are withdrawing during the prosecution.
President Trump reacted to Furman's decision in a tweet Tuesday.
So, now, Obama's judge in charge of the census (Are you a citizen of the United States?) Will not let the Department of Justice call on the lawyers he wants to use. Would it be a first?
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2019
Judges generally allow lawyers to withdraw from ongoing cases because of illness, death in the family or "certain extenuating circumstances," according to Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of California Law School. Richmond.
"I think judges like Furman and Hazel are fed up with the fact that the DOJ and Trump are perverting the federal justice system and have a client like Trump putting the lawyer in compromising situations," Tobias said. "Federal judges hate advice that is unclear with the courts."
Some plaintiffs in the citizenship lawsuits say they are determined to find out why Justice Department lawyers want to get away from the case.
"The Department of Justice must explain to the public and the courts its unprecedented substitution to the entire legal team that worked on this case," said plaintiff attorney Dale Ho, of the ACLU. "The Trump administration acts as if it has something to hide, and we will not rest until we know the truth."