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Second federal judge blocks Justice's bid to replace attorney-enumerators

Copies of the 2010 Census forms in Phoenix. (Ross D. Franklin / AP)

A second federal judge denied the Justice Department's request to remove his lawyers from the legal battle over the addition of a citizenship issue to the 2020 census, although he said Wednesday that He could possibly authorize the move if the new lawyers were willing to remedy the discrepancies between the previous team had informed the court and the current posture of the Trump administration.

US District Judge George J. Hazel, in Maryland, wrote in a six-page order that he shared the concerns of a federal judge in New York who had also blocked the maneuver of the Department of Justice. Justice this week, but noted that in his district, unlike that of the other judge, lawyers are not obliged to provide "satisfactory grounds for withdrawal". He said he was worried that "a change of lawyer at this late stage could disrupt an already complicated and accelerated case".

But Hazel also wrote that he was "inclined to finally allow the withdrawal" – if the Department of Justice gave particular assurances that the new team was "aware and ready to face potential conflicts between the recent developments in this case and the positions taken repeatedly in this Court by the lawyers who have withdrawn ".

The decision is yet another puzzle for the Department of Justice in what has become a thorny affair. Earlier this week, the ministry sought to replace the team of lawyers assigned to it, after at least some career lawyers were frustrated by the sudden change of position of the Trump administration on the possibility of continuing to fight.

This fight, which seemed once over, intensified on Wednesday when a group of conservative lawmakers wrote a letter to Attorney General William P. Barr asking him to support President Trump by adding the issue to the census by executive order.

The controversial letter states that the assessment of citizenship is "essential to the fulfillment of our duty to apportion representatives".

The Trump administration has denied that the addition of the question aims to improve its political wealth by redistributing constituencies, but many Democrats say that this issue is supposed to deter Latinos from participating in the census, which leads – enumeration of this population.

The ministry has tabled motions this week to dismiss lawyers in cases before several federal courts.

US District Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York was the first to block the transfer, although he said the Department of Justice could redefine its request and explain the change in more detail. .

Hazel wrote that because the Department of Justice had already registered new lawyers in the case, refusing their request to replace the team "would not prevent the lawyers who represented the interests of the accused so far to retreat to the background as a new council take the initiative. "

He wrote that he was "less focused on the formality of names that appear at the bottom of future pleadings and more on the need for a transition of lawyers that does not disrupt the orderly administration of justice." ".

Hazel added that "although the Court is finally willing to allow the withdrawal, in the unique circumstances of this application, more specific assurances will have to be provided first."

The Ministry, he wrote, "would need to provide the Court with specific assurances that one or more of the retiring lawyers remain at the disposal of the new DOJ team, if necessary, or to justify in detail why such an arrangement is untenable ". asked if the new team could continue without any help from previous lawyers.

"In practical terms, the Court does not understand how it would be possible, at this stage, that a radical change in the representation of the defendants does not have any effect on the orderly settlement of the proceedings. , unless the defendants provide the assurance of an orderly transition between the parties. remove lawyers and new lawyers, "wrote Hazel. "This requires more than the efforts of the new DOJ team, but also the participation and availability of the retiring lawyers."

Hazel also noted that new lawyers should be prepared to answer questions about potentially misleading claims by previous lawyers in court. Just last week, these lawyers thought that the case was over, due to an imminent deadline for the printing of census forms and a decision of the Court supreme that prevented the administration from adding a citizenship issue. But Trump ordered the ministry to continue looking for ways to continue the fight, raising questions about what he had previously told the court about the deadline.

"The accused must understand that a change of council does not create a clean slate for a party as if such statements had not been made before," Hazel said. "A new DOJ team will need to be ready to deal with these points, as well as other previous representations made by lawyers who have withdrawn at the appropriate time."

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.

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