You’re Fired

A very interesting, highly unusual thing has just happened in the case regarding the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census: the entire team of lawyers who had been representing the Trump administration in this litigation are being replaced.

To set the stage for you, please recall that this case went all the way to the Supreme Court.   The Supreme Court ruled Trump’s stated rationale for including the citizenship question was “contrived”, i.e., artificial, fabricated.  The case was then sent back down to a lower federal court in Maryland. In subsequent proceedings before that lower court, the Justice Department lawyers told Judge George J. Hazel in open court that the issue was now moot because of the Supreme Court’s decision and, because there was a 06/30/19 deadline for the printing of forms, forms without the citizenship question were already being printed. 

That appeared to be the end of the  case, but Trump tweeted the next day that “we are absolutely moving forward…”. Judge Hazel saw Trump’s tweet. Caught completely by surprise by the obvious contradiction between what the lawyers had just told him in court what Trump was saying he intended to do, Judge Hazel called the lawyers into court to explain. In that hearing, the Justice Department’s Joshua Gardner told the judge: “The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the president’s position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and your Honor.” You can imagine how horrified the Justice Department lawyers must have been. They had been betrayed by their client and their credibility was called into question. They were caught in a vise between an out of control, impetuous client and a federal judge.

When lawyers speak to a judge in court they speak for the client and their full authority to do so and their authority to bind the client is presumed by opponents and judges. This is a fundamental underpinning of our legal system.

 At the risk of being overly dramatic, it is as if a lawyer stood up in court and said his client intends to do X, Y and Z, and the client then stands up to tell the judge that his lawyer is totally wrong, that he doesn’t intend to do X, Y and Z and, instead, intends to do A, B and C. It is certain that Trump’s legal team was humiliated, but Trump doesn’t care about them nor does he care about what Judge Hazel thinks. Trump’s exceedingly long and tortured history with the judicial system as a private citizen and as President proves he has contempt for it. He seems to see it as a game to be played and nothing more. If it is possible, he has even less regard for lawyers.

Attorney General William Barr then announced that the entire legal team was being replaced. He further said that he had found a new and legal way to justify asking the citizenship question. However, replacement of the Justice Department legal team requires approval by Judge Hazel and, on Tuesday, July 9, 2019, Judge Hazel denied the substitution of counsel. Obviously, Judge Hazel is not amused by the antics of Trump and Attorney General Barr.  Judge Hazel is demanding a sworn explanation as to why the legal team is being replaced.

Did the first legal team quit or did Trump “fire” them like they were on his t.v. show?  Who knows what bizarre thing will happen next. Trump is caught in his own tangled web of lies which began when he instructed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to find a justification to add the question to the census.

Why does any of this matter? The Constitution requires a census of everyone residing in the United States, regardless of citizenship, every ten (10) years. Based upon the census, representation in Congress is determined, important political boundaries are drawn, and federal dollars are allocated.

The evidence proved that adding a citizenship question will cause a massive undercount because people illegally in the United States fear it will be used to deport them. Viewed from the standpoint of a noncitizen, that fear is not irrational. As one person recently put it, “…people can’t be coerced to participate, so they play the odds as they see them-nonparticipation is the safe bet”.

Republicans desperately want to stay in power. This effort is enormously aided by a census that undercounts non-citizens because of the effect it has on the redistricting process that will take place in 2021.

It is no secret that Texas is the home to a very large number of non-citizens. If they were counted properly, Texas stands to gain seats in Congress and more federal dollars.  If you set party politics aside, Texas should be adamant that all non-citizens are counted because it helps us tremendously. However, our Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General all side with Trump and the Republican Party. They have put the interests of their political party above the best interest of Texas.