The federal judge whom President Trump characterized during his campaign as “a Mexican” and therefore biased against him said he would announce a ruling next week that could determine whether the government can proceed with its expedited plans to build a border wall.
District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel is presiding over a lawsuit filed by advocacy groups and the state of California challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s plans to bypass standard environmental-impact studies and rapidly expand barriers along the Mexican border.
Curiel said Friday that DHS has yet to explain why it must proceed so urgently in its construction plans.
“By waving environmental protections, we are ignoring something that has been very important to Congress for the past 40, 50 years,” the judge told government attorneys. He asked them to provide more information by Tuesday and said he would issue his ruling soon after.
Galen N. Thorp, a government attorney representing the Department of Homeland Security, said DHS’s plans were consistent with congressional authorizations.
“This case is about plaintiffs’ opposition to Congress’s decision that border infrastructure can, in certain circumstances, be a higher priority” than environmental laws, Thorp said.
Plaintiffs in the suit argue that environmental waivers granted by Congress a decade ago involving matters of crucial border security cannot be applied to future wall construction. A ruling against DHS would likely delay the Trump administration’s plans to move rapidly if Congress provides billions in funding for the wall.
The plaintiffs said they are not challenging the government’s right to replace or maintain existing barriers, only “the projects they want to do now,” said Michael Cayaban, an attorney for the state of California.
Curiel was the judge in an unrelated class-action lawsuit against the president’s now-defunct Trump University, and the judge’s alleged bias against Trump became a running theme during his presidential campaign.
At a rally here in May 2016 that triggered protests, Trump blasted Curiel as “a hater of Donald Trump,” then continued to lash out after the judge ordered the release of internal Trump University documents related to the suit requested by The Washington Post.
Trump told supporters at the time that Curiel harbored a bias against the candidate’s plans for a border wall because the judge was “Spanish” and “a Mexican.”
Curiel’s parents were immigrants from Mexico. He was born in Indiana.
“Look, he’s proud of his heritage, okay?” Trump said of Curiel in a June 2016 interview with CNN. “He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico.”
Trump’s remarks were widely condemned at the time, but Curiel did not respond publicly. Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle the fraud claims in March, soon after moving into the White House.
New wall construction is likely to happen first on federally protected lands, including parks and wildlife sanctuaries because the government already owns the property.
The president’s wall-building blueprints also call for thousands of miles of new roadways along the border to provide access for maintenance crews and law enforcement.