The Dept. of Justice late Sunday evening announced it is replacing its team of attorneys who have spent countless hours in the Trump administration's long battle to get what some say is a racist citizenship question added to the 2020 Census.
Experts are weighing in, with one calling the move "ominous."
“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.
The New York Times quoted Justin Levitt, a former senior official in the Justice Department under President Barack Obama, who said: “There is no reason they would be taken off that case unless they saw what was coming down the road and said, ‘I won’t sign my name to that.’”
Some believe what is coming down the road is the DOJ lying to the federal courts – or that it already has.
Lawyer Luppe B. Luppen, who is a noted commentator on Twitter and writer at Yahoo News, offered up this theory:
Is it possible DOJ needed to switch lawyers in the census case because they’ve had the existing team lying to the j… https://t.co/3mRbeHDZXH— southpaw (@southpaw)1562549724.0
Meanwhile, renowned election law expert and law and political science professor Rick Hasen weighed in quickly:
This development is ominous. It almost certainly means the career attorneys working for the Department of Justice r… https://t.co/6ln2JP7SLj— Rick Hasen (@Rick Hasen)1562544883.0
Hasen was not the only one who surmised the DOJ attorneys who had argued the case decided they could no longer do so under the circumstances.
Some legal experts say the first team was thoroughly embarrassed when President Donald Trump tweeted that reports saying the administration would abide by the Supreme Court's ruling and not add the citizenship question to the Census were "fake," especially since those reports were official statements from the Trump administration. The first team may have "declined to continue working on the case once it became clear they were being asked to engage in lawyering that violated their duty of candor to the court," former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said.
"Career folks likely declined to make convoluted arguments to pacify Trump given [their] ethics obligations," she added.
"Never heard of anything like this," law professor and former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal said on Twitter.
ThinkProgress columnist Ian Millhiser, who wrote a book on the Supreme Court, issued this wise warning:
Why is this question so critical for Trump? Because it will benefit white Republican voters and possibly reduce the number of Democratic districts in the U.S. House of Representatives, by scaring minorities – especially non-citizens – from responding to the Census.