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Federal Judge Who Was Disparaged By Trump Greenlights Border Wall Project

Border wall prototypes on display in San Diego, where contractors offer different designs.
Elliott Spagat
Border wall prototypes on display in San Diego, where contractors offer different designs.

A federal judge in California has rejected a legal challenge to the Trump administration's plans to build a wall on the Southern border with Mexico.

The state of California and a variety of environmental groups had filed suit against the administration, arguing that it was wrong to launch the border wall project by waiving several federal environmental laws.

But U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled that the administration has not violated those laws, in essence giving the project a green light.

Curiel is the same jurist who oversaw a separate lawsuit against Trump University. As a candidate, Trump accused Curiel of bias because the Indiana-born judge is of Mexican ancestry. Trump called Curiel a "hater."

In his 101-page ruling, the judge said his decision "cannot and does not consider whether the underlying decisions to construct the border barriers are politically wise or prudent." He also referred to his Indiana roots with a quote from Chief Justice John Roberts.

"As fellow Indiana native Chief Justice Roberts observed in addressing a case 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. 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.' "

But ultimately, Curiel disagreed with the administration's challengers who had argued that the government improperly waived environmental laws to begin construction of border wall prototypes and replacements for existing border fencing.

The Justice Department issued a statement saying that it is pleased that the Department of Homeland Security can continue the project.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed the first challenge against the administration. In a tweet, a senior attorney for the group, Brian Segee said:

"We intend to appeal this disappointing ruling, which would allow Trump to shrug off crucial environmental laws that protect people and wildlife. The Trump administration has completely overreached its authority in its rush to build this destructive, senseless wall. They're giving unprecedented, sweeping power to an unelected agency chief to ignore dozens of laws and crash through hundreds of miles of spectacular borderlands. This is unconstitutional and shouldn't be allowed to stand."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Richard Gonzales
Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.