Months before Donald Trump was elected president, he attacked a federal judge assigned a case involving the defunct Trump University, accusing him of being biased because of his Mexican heritage. The unusually personal, racially tinged remarks against U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel alarmed legal experts and spurred fierce criticism from the Republican Party, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
Now, the Trump administration must coincidentally face that same judge in a lawsuit in California filed on behalf of Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez, who immigration advocates say is one of the first “dreamers” to be deported under President Trump.
Attorneys on behalf of Montes, who was brought to the United States as a child, filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding that the federal government turn over all information about the 23-year-old’s case. They assert the California resident was deported in February despite his status as a “dreamer” — a beneficiary of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Department of Homeland Security disputes their claim.
Despite conflicting accounts, the allegations heightened existing concerns that DACA recipients are now being targeted for deportation, notwithstanding Trump’s pledges to “show great heart” toward them. Montes’s lawsuit could help define Trump’s approach to the DACA program, which has granted permits to more than 770,000 people since 2012.
Tuesday’s lawsuit came less than a month after Curiel approved a $25 million settlement in a case alleging the defunct Trump University misled customers and committed fraud. Trump frequently assailed the judge, and in one interview said his Mexican heritage presented an “absolute conflict” in his fitness to hear the lawsuit because of Trump’s tough stance on immigration and his promises to build a border wall.
Curiel, who was born in Indiana to parents who emigrated from Mexico, made no public comments about Trump’s attacks and did not recuse himself in the Trump University case.
Legal experts say the attacks against Curiel, an Obama appointee who was a former U.S. attorney, should not affect his fitness to hear the lawsuit, a case that was randomly assigned to the judge. The judicial code of conduct states that impropriety occurs when “reasonable minds” with knowledge of the relevant circumstances would conclude that the judge’s honesty, integrity or impartiality is impaired.
“The idea that you would lack impartiality because you were criticized by a public official just never has been thought of something that would meet that standard,” said Scott L. Cummings, Robert Henigson Professor of Legal Ethics at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. This, he said, was a fairly clear-cut case in which the judge should have complete authority to hear the merits of the suit.
If such a standard of impartiality existed, Cummings said, public officials would have a “perverse” incentive to criticize judges with differing opinions.
Since taking office, Trump has continued to criticize the judicial system and some judges. In February he lashed out at the “so-called judge” who decided to temporarily block enforcement of his controversial travel ban, sending tweets throughout the day. He later said that an appeals court’s hearing regarding his immigration executive order was “disgraceful,” and claimed the judges were more concerned about politics than following the law.
Cummings said the “vitriol” and personal nature of the attacks on the judiciary are at a level he has never seen before.
The assignment of the dreamer lawsuit to Curiel, Cummings said, “is an amazing coincidence and one which might make the president think twice next time he wants to criticize in personal terms judges on the bench.”
More from Morning Mix