Sunday, May 29, 2016
The Washington Post reports that, as protesters outside a rally in San Diego on Friday afternoon chanted obscenities, waved Mexican flags and clashed with police, Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, gave a fiery speech and sought to shame one of this city’s federal judges, Gonzalo Curiel, who is hearing a class-action lawsuit against Trump University. The lawsuit is one of three that accuse Trump University of fleecing students with unfulfilled promises to teach secrets of success in real estate.
Trump delivered a monologue about the years-old case involving students who claim they were defrauded by Trump’s real estate “university.” Trump called Judge Curiel “a hater of Donald Trump” and “very hostile” person who had “railroaded” him. “I’ll be seeing you in November, either as president…” Trump saidf. “I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself. I think it’s a disgrace that he’s doing this.” Trump brought up Curiel’s ethnicity: “The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican…I think the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump.”
One has to wonder whether Trump's harsh words are designed to convince Judge Curiel to recuse himself from the case.
For the record, Judge Curiel was born in East Chicago, Indiana. He is the son of immigrants. Curiel received his BA and law degrees from Indiana University. He had experience in private practice and then served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of California from 1989 to 2002 and in the Central District of California from 2002 to 2006. While in the Southern District, he served as Chief of the Narcotics Enforcement Division from 1999 to 2002. Curiel was appointed Judge of the Superior Court of San Diego in 2007, which is the position he held until his appointment to the federal bench. Nominated by President Obama, Curiel was confirmed by the Senate ion 2012.
UPDATE (June 3): Donald Trump has continued his attacks on Judge Curiel. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal ("Trump Says Judge’s Mexican Heritage Presents ‘Absolute Conflict’ ", Trump claims that Judge Curiel has a conflict of interest because of his Mexican ancestry, a charge drawing criticism from legal observers. Trump thus escalated his attacks on the federal judge presiding over civil fraud lawsuits against Trump University.
As a legal matter, Trump is off base if he is claiming that Judge Curiel's ancestry alone warrants disqualification. In 1974, African American Judge Leon Higginbotham Jr. soundly rejected the argument that his African American ancestry disqualified him from hearing a civil rights case involving discrimination against African Americans. See Pennsylvania v. International Union of Operating Engineers, 388 F. Supp. 155 (E.D. Pa. 1974). As Judge Higgintbotham put it,
"To suggest that black judges should be so disqualified would be analogous to suggesting that the slave masters were right when, during tragic hours for this nation, they argued that only they, but not the slaves, could evaluate the harshness or justness of the system."
UPDATE (June 4): Trump continues the attacks and criticism of respected federal Judge Curiel. It makes one wonder what kinds of judges a President Trump would appoint and whether he would respect an independent federal judiciary.