The Department of Justice announced on Sunday that it was replacing the entire legal team defending the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

In a statement released this weekend, the DOJ said it was “shifting these matters to a new team of Civil Division lawyers going forward.” The department offered no explanation for the mass change in the legal team, an unusual move on a case as consequential as the citizenship question.

Some legal scholars say that this move suggests that the career lawyers in the DOJ who were working on the case refused to continue defending arguments which they believed had no legal basis. “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,’” said Justin Levitt, a former senior Justice Department official under President Barack Obama.



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The former legal team, which was largely made up of lawyers from the federal programs branch which customarily defends administration policies, will be replaced by a team with no lawyers from the federal programs branch, a highly unusual move.

The fight over the citizenship question has been a significant cause of stress for many Trump administration officials, especially after the Supreme Court ruled that the arguments given by the White House for adding the question were inadequate. After the court’s decision, many in the Trump administration gave up, and Wilbur Ross, Secretary of the Commerce Department, announced that the 2020 census would go into print without the president’s inclusion. Politicians such as Ross were blindsided when Trump tweeted that the statements from his own officials that they had given up on the question were “fake,” and that he would continue the fight to include the citizenship question. Since then the DOJ and the Commerce Department have been forced to reverse course and continue their attempts to include the citizenship question in the census.

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