The census shambles

I wrote earlier about how people who work for the Donald Trump administration eventually end up losing all self-respect as they are forced to defend the indefensible. This happened in the case of a veteran lawyer Sarah Fabian in the justice department as she tried to defend the government’s practice of denying basic health and sanitary essentials to detained migrant children.

We now have another career justice department lawyer seeing any sense of credibility and integrity slip away as he tries to cope with the utter shambles of the Trump policy on the citizenship question on the census form. I earlier wrote how, following the US Supreme Court’s rejection of the citizenship question because the government’s reasons for including it were ‘contrived’ and thus not credible, the Department of Commerce formally stated that it was no longer going to pursue the matter and that the census forms were being printed without the question. This would normally be the end of the story.

But there are still currently two pending cases on the citizenship question and in one case in Maryland, the lawyer for the justice department told U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel that the government was no longer pursuing the case. That was before Donald Trump said that this was all fake news (even though his own commerce secretary had signed off on the decision) and that the question was still being pursued. The baffled judge, who apparently follows Trump on Twitter, immediately in a conference call asked the lawyers what the hell was going on and that he wanted them to come in for a hearing on Friday at 2:00 pm to tell him in writing what the situation was. That was when government lawyer Josh Gardner perhaps began wondering whether he should find another job as he tried to assure the judge that he had not tried to mislead him.

When the government asked for an extension until Monday, the judge refused and questioned whether the Justice Department was speaking for the President.

“If you were Facebook and an attorney for Facebook told me one thing, and then I read a press release from Mark Zuckerberg telling me something else, I would be demanding that Mark Zuckerberg appear in court with you the next time because I would be saying I don’t think you speak for your client anymore,” Hazel said.

After the whip lashing, Gardner told the judge he’d been with the Justice Department for 16 years “through multiple administrations” and that he had “always endeavored to be as candid as possible with the court.”

Gardner’s plea to the judge was pathetic, essentially telling him that he had no idea what his client, the president, was doing.

Judge Hazel, who said that he follows the president on Twitter, expressed regret that he “hadn’t gone far enough in terms of pinning the government down on where things stand,” when the case appeared to be over on Tuesday.

“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,” Josh Gardner, a lawyer for the Justice Department’s civil division, who has served under multiple administrations, told the judge, according to a transcript. “I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the President has tweeted. But, obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what’s going on,” he added.

The Solicitor General is the government’s top lawyer, the one who argues its cases before the Supreme Court, and the current occupant Noel Francisco had repeatedly told the court that they had to have a decision by June 30 because the forms had to start printing by July 1 to keep to the deadline for getting the census done on time. The Supreme Court complied. Now he too has egg on his face because Trump is saying that they were just kidding about the June 30 deadline and that it could be as late as October.

As Scott Martell writes, the whole thing is a shambles of epic proportions.

The Trump administration is absolutely bonkers – which comes as a surprise to no one at this point, but it’s remarkable how many different ways it manifests itself.

July, October, whatever. Time and truth are fluid when you’re the mayor of “crazy town.”

Exactly what Trump has up his sleeve at this point is unknown. In fact, there’s a very good chance even he doesn’t know what he will do, and that when he reaches up his sleeve, he will find nothing.

As we’ve all learned, nothing the president says can be believed, and no threatened or promised action can be trusted until, in fact, it has happened.

And even then, you have to leave a little margin for a post-decision re-decision, kind of like watching an airplane take off and then suddenly turn around and land.

I think Trump has nothing up his sleeve. He never concedes that he has lost any fight. His method of operation is to deny it and claim that the parrot is not dead and string everything along until it drops out of the news cycle or something else outrageous takes attention away and his base of supporters forget about it. That is how he gets his ‘wins’.

Trump promised during his campaign that if he is elected president this loser nation would turn things around and people would get sick of all the winning. I don’t think the nation can take much more of this kind of winning.


  1. says

    wanted them to come in for a hearing on Friday at 2:00 pm to tell him in writing what the situation was.

    I don’t think you were being deliberately funny but the idea of a “hearing” to tell someone something “in writing” is surrealism at its finest.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @1: Is it any more surreal than writing “I hear what you’re saying” in response to another written comment?

  3. Jenora Feuer says

    Scott McCloud did that one, with bonus surrealism, in Understanding Comics. In a comic-book format lecture involving René Magritte’s ‘The Treachery of Images’, he went, in various panels (paraphrased):
    “Of course, it’s not a pipe. It’s a painting of a pipe.”
    “Well, in this case it’s my drawing of a painting of a pipe.”
    “Actually, it’s a printed copy of my drawing of a painting of a pipe.”
    “Ten copies, if you count all the panels on these two pages.”
    “Do you hear what I’m saying?”
    “If so, get your ears checked, because these pages haven’t been making any sound at all.”

    Back on topic, I think in this case, the best thing to have happen would be for the Census department (which are presumably all career bureaucrats anyway) just print up the Census without the citizenship question, as the court has instructed, and just not say anything to Trump about it so he won’t fly off the handle again until it’s all done. Make use of the fact that Trump has an attention span of a goldfish and that he has more than enough other things to get outraged about.

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