During the campaign, President Donald Trump was roundly criticized for his comments about the ethnicity of a judge who was presiding in a case involving his now defunct Trump University. He argued that, because of the Mexican heritage of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel (who was actually born in Indiana), the judge was biased against him and referred to him as a “hater.” That “hater” however just handed down a major 101-page ruling in favor of Trump’s signature policy: the wall with Mexico. President Trump did not mention the controversy in his tweet praising the decision.
Trump made repeated disparaging comments about Judge Curiel. He told Fox News that Curiel had been “extremely hostile” toward him due to his position on immigration: “I think it has to do with, perhaps, the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border — very, very strong on the border,. He has been extremely hostile to me. Now, he is Hispanic, I believe.” He then repeated those comments on CNN in noting that “He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.” Then at a political rally in San Diego where Curiel sits, Trump said “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel and he is not doing the right thing.” He added that Curiel “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.”
At the time of Trump’s comments, I was one of many voicing strong objections to the personal attack. Indeed, I recently raised those comments in an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox who also said that he also “hated” that attack on Judge Curiel even though he was critical of “rogue judges.”
In his decision, Curiel rejected the environmental challenge to the wall’s construction by California and various of environmental groups. The lawsuit was based on the waiver of federal environmental laws to expedite the wall construction. Curiel noted that, as a threshold matter, his role as a judge does not involve a ruling on whether “border barriers are politically wise or prudent.” In one notable reference, he refers to his fellow Hoosier — John Roberts.
“As fellow Indiana native Chief Justice Roberts observed in addressing a case surrounded by political disagreement: ‘Court[s] are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.’ “