The federal judge who will hear the case of a Dreamer deported under President Donald Trump’s administration is the same judge who faced racist attacks from Trump last year.
In June, then-candidate Trump repeatedly accused U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel of being biased against him in a case involving Trump’s fraudulent for-profit university because Curiel is “of Mexican heritage.”
“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 said of Curiel, who was born and raised in Indiana.
On Wednesday, Curiel was assigned the case involving Juan Manuel Montes, an undocumented immigrant who was deported in February, despite being protected under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump administration officials have disputed his story, acknowledging he did hold DACA status until 2018 but claiming he voluntarily left the country without authorization, which could have led to it being revoked. Montes and his attorneys maintain he was deported and did not leave voluntarily.
Curiel received the case purely by chance, as judges rotate through pending cases in their area of jurisdiction. Curiel is a judge in the Southern District of California, where the lawsuit was filed.
Trump’s attacks against Curiel last year drew widespread condemnation, even from GOP leaders. House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.) called Trump’s remarks “the textbook definition of a racist comment,” though he stood by his candidacy. Some GOP lawmakers withdrew their support of Trump.
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.Donald Trump on Judge Gonzalo Curiel
Legal experts say Trump’s comments would not create a conflict of interest for Curiel in hearing Montes’ case against the Trump administration.
“It is of interest because of the judge having been previously attacked — unfairly, I think — by candidate Trump, but I don’t think legally there’s much of an issue here,” Kevin Johnson, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Davis, told NBC.
Kari Hong, an assistant professor at Boston College Law School, noted to USA Today that Trump frequently lashes out against judges who have ruled against him, such as the judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who halted his executive order banning travel and immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.
“Simply being attacked by the President isn’t a conflict of interest,” she said. “If that were the standard, the entire 9th Circuit Court of Appeals couldn’t handle a single case.”