July 8 (UPI) -- A new legal team will lead the Trump administration's efforts to add a contentious citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census form, despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month temporarily blocking it.
President Donald Trump last week contradicted the Justice Department, which had said the question would not be part of the census since the high court's ruling. On Twitter, Trump said he was "absolutely moving forward" with trying to add the question.
"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," Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement Sunday, without saying who will be a part of the new group.
"Since these cases began, the lawyers representing the United States in these cases have given countless hours to defending the Commerce Department and have consistently demonstrated the highest professionalism, integrity, and skill inside and outside the courtroom," she continued.
Trump's tweet last week appeared to catch Justice Department attorney Joshua Gardner off guard during a conference call with a federal judge in Maryland handing challenges to the citizenship question along with opponents of the administration's efforts.
"I've been with the United States Department of Justice for 16 years, through multiple administrations, and I've always endeavored to be as candid as possible with the court," Gardner said to the judge last week.
"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. I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the president has tweeted," Gardner said.
Chief Justice John Roberts in an opinion on June 27 said that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's explanation for adding the citizenship question appeared "contrived" and "a distraction," but left the door open for the Trump administration to come up with a new rationale.