The federal judge whom President Trump disparaged as a “Mexican” during his campaign will preside over a case brought against one of the president’s most highly touted initiatives: the U.S-Mexico border wall.
District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, who was targeted by the president while he was the judge of a class-action lawsuit against the president’s now-defunct Trump University, will on Friday hear the case brought by the state of California, some environmental groups and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). It challenges waivers that were given to the federal branch more than 10 years ago to bypass some federal and state laws for border security.
The case, which was initially three separate lawsuits before being consolidated by Curiel, represents a substantial legal challenge to the construction of Trump’s potential border wall.
Andrew Gordon, a former Department of Homeland Security lawyer during the Obama administration, told McClatchy, which first reported the story, that a ruling against the administration could slow plans for construction along the U.S.-Mexico border, even if the ruling is later overturned.
“This is a very significant case,” Gordon told the news service.
The groups that have brought the lawsuit have a significant legal burden to meet. The waivers they challenge were granted in 1996 and 2005 to allow the federal government to bypass some federal and state laws, including environmental statutes, in the name of border security.
Brian Segee, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs, told McClatchy that a key debate will be whether Congress meant to waive these laws into the distant future or only for specific projects ongoing at the time the waivers were issued.
California has said the construction of a border wall could do “irreparable harm” to its wildlife. Grijalva’s suit says previous environmental analyses are out of date and did not take into account updated border-security measures, including the potential construction of a border wall.
It is yet another showdown in federal court over Trump’s immigration policies. The lawsuit also brings Curiel, whose court is in San Diego, back into the national spotlight on a case about a topic that is nearly as synonymous with the president as his defunct university.
The last time, as Curiel served as the judge over the case on some of the lawsuits which alleged fraud against Trump University, Trump began to attack him, when the presidential candidate was still considered by most to be a long shot for the position though he had secured the GOP nomination.
Perhaps most jarring was Trump’s continued use of Curiel’s ethnicity to attack the federal judge’s impartiality. Trump falsely asserted that Curiel was a “Mexican,” — Curiel was born in Indiana — and other times said that he was “Hispanic” and “Spanish,” seemingly as an attempt to argue that the judge was biased because of Trump’s sharply conservative immigration ideas, including of course, the wall proposal.
“Look, he’s proud of his heritage, okay? I’m building a wall,” Trump said of Curiel in June 2016 to CNN anchor Jake Tapper. “He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”
Trump’s remarks, which he repeated at various points for months, drew some rebukes from his own party — even Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) called the remarks “racist” — and prompted the candidate to issue a statement saying his comments were being misconstrued.
Curiel, whose parents were immigrants from Mexico, did not respond publicly to Trump’s attacks. The fraud lawsuits ended in a $25 million settlement Trump agreed to pay out shortly after the election.
Though Trump insisted during his campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, Congress has sought to secure funding from American taxpayers. The amount of money for the project is a subject of ongoing budget negotiations that have already shut the federal government down once.