Dean Obeidallah says Trump's attack on a well qualified and impartial judge, is a shocking case of bigotry
Obeidallah: Trump is speaking on behalf of one person -- himself
Has Donald Trump reached an alarming new low? On Friday, May 27, during his campaign rally in San Diego, Trump ripped into federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel who is presiding over one of the two class action lawsuits pending against Trump University and Trump, personally, for allegedly defrauding thousands of people out of money in connection with the now defunct school.
Trump dedicated an incredible 12 minutes of his campaign speech to slam Curiel. First, Trump demanded the judge recuse himself because he was a “hater” who had been nominated by President Obama. Then, only a short time after the crowd had been chanting “build that wall,” Trump told his rabid fans that Curiel was a “Mexican.” But then Trump added, “I think that’s fine.” (For those who care about actual facts, Curiel is not Mexican; he was born in Indiana.)
If Curiel’s Latino heritage was “fine,” then why did Trump bring it up at all? Simple: Trump was telling his supporters that Curiel is not one of us, rather he’s a “Mexican.” He’s an other. This has been a central theme in Trump’s divisive presidential campaign. After all, Trump kicked off his campaign last year claiming – despite having no factual support – that Mexico was sending “rapists” and people who are “bringing drugs” to our country.
Republican politicians slamming federal judges is nothing new. We have seen it time and time again with conservatives attacking “judicial activism,” such as when Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee went ballistic over the U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. And to be fair, Democrats like President Obama have been publicly critical of the Republicans, who until recently held a majority on the Supreme Court, and struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
But the difference is that both the Republicans and Democrats who have publicly criticized judges in the past have been focused on constitutional issues that impact countless Americans. That’s not what Trump is talking about here. Trump is only concerned how this lawsuit will impact one, Donald J. Trump.
To be clear, Trump is facing personal liability in this case as well as the other two cases involving Trump University, one in New York and another in California. In 2013, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a $40 million civil lawsuit against Trump personally and the school on behalf of 5,000 former students who had allegedly been defrauded. Schneiderman called Trump University “a bait and switch scheme” and noted that Trump could personally face millions in civil penalties under New York law. A separate federal class action lawsuit not connected to Curiel is also still pending in California. It alleges that Trump engaged in racketeering in violation of the RICO statute.
If Curiel were truly biased, Trump would have a point. But that’s simply not the case. Curiel is not some Democratic activist nominated by President Obama in 2011 to the federal bench as payback for his years of political service. Rather Curiel was first appointed in 2006 to the California Superior Court by then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Before that, Curiel served for 17 years as a federal prosecutor and was even targeted by a Mexican drug cartel in the 1990s for assassination after his efforts to extradite two drug kingpins from Mexico. And when Curiel was finally confirmed as a federal judge by the U.S. Senate in 2012, it was by way of a voice vote with no recorded Republican opposition. Apparently Trump has not figured out how to use Google or perhaps more likely, he could not care less about the facts.
Even Trump’s claim on Friday that Curiel has “given us ruling after ruling after ruling, negative, negative, negative” is undermined by the facts. Just a few weeks ago, Curiel agreed to Trump’s request to delay the trial in this case from this summer, as originally scheduled, to after the election. As Curiel stated in making this ruling in Trump’s favor and over the plaintiffs’ objections, he feared the “media frenzy” could make it impossible for the jury to be unbiased.
But still that ruling was not enough for Trump. In Trump’s view, this “Mexican” judge still needed to be investigated, without offering any specific facts as to why.
Trump concluded his tirade about Curiel by noting how much he relished the idea of returning to the stand for trial after being elected President.
But he picked back up on Memorial Day by continuing his attacks on the judge in a series of tweets, calling him “unfair” and “Totally biased-hates Trump.” And on Thursday, Trump doubled down on his call for Curiel to step down – but this time Trump no longer was pretending that Curiel being “Mexican” was “fine.” Rather he stunningly told the Wall Street Journal that Curiel was disqualified from presiding over the case specifically due to his Latino heritage which Trump dubbed an “inherent conflict of interest” because, “I’m building a wall.” (Does this mean that given Trump’s inflammatory comments about women and Muslims, judges with those backgrounds are also disqualified?)
Hopefully, this case will finally go to trial in November – like Trump wanted – after six long years in the court system. It will give the plaintiffs, which include senior citizens who have made claims under California state law for “financial elder abuse,” a chance to make their case and if successful to be reimbursed for their losses. And here’s hoping that when that trial takes place, Trump is simply known as the former GOP nominee, not the President-elect.
(This article was updated with Donald Trump’s new comments Thursday on Judge Gonzalo Curiel.)
Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s weekly program “The Dean Obeidallah Show,” a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean’s Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.