The federal judge Trump once attacked for his Mexican heritage just gave Trump a major border-wall victory

Prototypes for the border wall with Mexico stand across from Tijuana, Mexico on January 27, 2018.

Prototypes for the border wall with Mexico stand across from Tijuana, Mexico on January 27, 2018.
Reuters/Jorge Duenes

  • The judge that President Donald Trump previously accused of being biased and “a Mexican” just ruled in favor of the border wall.
  • During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly attacked US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel over his Mexican heritage, although Curiel was born in Indiana.
  • Curiel gave a subtle nod to the controversy in his ruling, citing Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as a “fellow Indiana native” who frequently handles cases “surrounded by political disagreement.”

The federal judge that President Donald Trump once argued was too biased by his Mexican heritage to handle lawsuits against Trump University ruled in favor Tuesday of his long-promised border wall.

US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled Tuesday that the Homeland Security Department can waive compliance with certain environmental laws to build the wall, dealing a major blow to the main challenge to the Trump administration’s efforts.

Trump celebrated the ruling but said he wouldn’t approve construction of any section of the wall until the entire project is approved.

“I have decided that sections of the Wall that California wants built NOW will not be built until the whole Wall is approved,” he said. “Big victory yesterday with ruling from the courts that allows us to proceed. OUR COUNTRY MUST HAVE BORDER SECURITY!”

Curiel drew national attention during the presidential campaign after Trump assailed him for his heritage, at times falsely describing him as “a Mexican” even though Curiel was born in Indiana.

“Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building a wall, OK? I’m building a wall,” Trump said in an infamous exchange with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “We’re building a wall. He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings – rulings that people can’t even believe.”

Trump ultimately agreed to a $25 million settlement in the Trump University fraud cases, and Curiel never responded publicly to Trump’s attacks.

But in his ruling on Tuesday, Curiel gave a nod to his Indiana roots by citing Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as a “fellow Indiana native” who handled a 2012 case similarly “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,” Curiel wrote, quoting Roberts’ 2012 ruling. “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.”

The plaintiffs in the case included three separate parties whose suits were consolidated into one. They argued that the Trump administration exceeded its authority in waiving the environmental laws to build new border structures, including the eight wall prototypes that have already been erected near the Otay Mesa port of entry in San Diego, California.

They also claimed the wall construction could result in “irreparable harm” to wildlife and ecosystems along the 1,933-mile border.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, argued that the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to waive the environmental laws, and that previous courts have upheld the department’s actions on border security.

“Congress unmistakably expressed its policy judgment that construction of the barriers and roads along the border was of such importance that it justified waiving application of environmental and other laws,” the Trump administration said in a brief.