Second U.S. judge blocks Justice Department bid for new legal team in census cases

(Reuters) - A second U.S. judge has rejected a Department of Justice request to replace its legal team in cases on the 2020 census as the Trump administration tries to add a contentious citizenship question.

FILE PHOTO: An informational pamphlet is displayed at an event for community activists and local government leaders to mark the one-year-out launch of the 2020 Census efforts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel in Maryland said on Wednesday the government needed at least one withdrawing lawyer to remain on the case to help the new lawyers. Barring that, Hazel said the government would need to provide detailed reasoning why that was untenable.

Hazel also said that bringing in a new legal team does not “create a clean slate for a party to proceed as if prior representations made to the Court were not in fact made.”

The Justice Department tried to change the legal team after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 27 against the first attempt by Republican President Donald Trump's administration to add the citizenship question, calling the rationale "contrived." here

The judge wrote in an order that the government could try again to get his approval to swap its legal team with an explanation of how the withdrawing attorneys are helping the transition.

The Department of Justice declined comment.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan also rejected here a Justice Department request to replace the lawyers in a related census case he oversees.

The printing of the decennial population survey is already underway. Trump has said he was considering issuing an executive order to add the citizenship question on census forms, which opponents fear will lead to an undercount in Democratic-leaning areas with high immigrant populations.

Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the United States. The Republican’s hard line policies on immigration have punctuated his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign.

Some legal experts said if the goal was to depress counts in some regions, one way to accomplish that would be to keep alive a losing legal fight because it might feed suspicions about the census and deter immigrants from responding.

Some states and civil rights groups in the census litigation have argued that bringing in a new legal team will delay the legal proceedings and put government opponents at a disadvantage.

The population count determines the number of congressional representatives for each state and dictates how the federal government allocates more than $800 billion in funding for services such as schools and law enforcement.

Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Leslie Adler and Grant McCool