Judicial independence is the concept that the judiciary needs to be kept away from the other branches of government. That is, courts should not be subject to improper influence from the other branches of government, or from private or partisan interests. As we can see, in our current government where both the executive and legislative branches are dominated by one party, the republican party, judicial independence is more important than ever, for it may well be the only check on the unlimited power grab by republicans.
Trump & Co. have butted heads with the judiciary more than once in the past year. One of those times is memorable, notable, and is coming back to haunt Trump.
U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Paul Curiel has already had one occasion to feel Trump’s wrath. The first was in 2016 when, as the judge scheduled to preside over the class action lawsuit against Trump University, Curiel denied a request by Trump’s attorneys to postpone he trial until after Trump’s inauguration, set for January 20, 2017. Curiel had already agreed to one postponement at Trump’s request, when he delayed the trial until after the election. The parties ultimately reached a settlement whereby the more than 3,000 parties included in the class action suit agreed to $0.90 on the dollar for the money they had paid the fraudulent Trump University..
During the campaign Trump repeatedly criticized Curiel in campaign speeches and interviews, calling him a “hater of Donald Trump”, saying his rulings have been unfair, and that Curiel “happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great. I think that’s fine”, while suggesting that the judge’s ethnicity posed a conflict of interest in light of Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Cato Institute fellow Nat Hentoff wrote at that time that thus far in the case, Curiel had ruled in Trump’s favor far more often than not, including granting his motion to delay the trial until after the 2016 presidential election, and concluded that “Donald Trump has an odd way of showing his appreciation for a trial judge who, as his attorney said, is just ‘doing his job’.”
Then came the case of a young man, Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez, who while protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), but was deported in February 2017. Judge Curiel was scheduled to hear that case, but eventually the charges were dropped.
And now, once again Judge Curiel is likely to come into Trump’s crosshairs, as he is currently hearing a case involving security measures along the U.S.- Mexican border. The lawsuit was brought by the state of California, some environmental groups and Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona democratic representative to the U.S. Congress..
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claims it has the authority to bypass the requisite environmental impact studies and begin construction on Trump’s border wall, because 14 miles of existing fencing near San Diego is “no longer optimal for border patrol operations.”
California and the environmentalists claim that the lack of environmental reviews would imperil endangered species including the Quino checkerspot butterfly and the Mexican flannel bush.
The judge is expected to rule on the case next week, but as of this past week, he seemed unconvinced of the urgency claimed by DHS, saying …
“By waiving environmental protections, we are ignoring something that has been very important to Congress for the past 40, 50 years.”
He then asked them to provide additional information supporting their claim, and said he would then make a ruling.
Congress has not yet appropriated funding for Trump’s wall, but this is one way of actually starting the wall without approval of Congress, and of setting the scene for building the wall when and if Congress does agree to appropriate the tens of billions of dollars that would be required.
The plaintiffs in the case say they are not challenging the government’s authority to replace worn fencing, but the magnitude and type of the project being planned is likely to be damaging to the environment. The current fencing could be replaced at a much lesser cost and in a much more environmentally safe manner than the current plan to replace the fencing with a wall.
Everything points to Judge Curiel being a very fair and impartial judge, and I believe his ruling will be in the best interest of the nation, without allowing Trump’s verbal abuse of him two years ago colour his judgment. But, I would bet even money that if the judge rules in favour of California and the environmental groups, Trump will swear it was a personal vendetta based on his, Trump’s, earlier disparagement of the good judge.
This case bears watching, for it may well set a precedent for the future of Trump’s dream wall, should it ever be funded. The wall has already been deemed environmentally unstable. It is opposed by many in the southern bordering states, as it would drastically cut down on the tourism industry. It has been analyzed by experts and deemed to be ineffective, and the costs will certainly outweigh any benefits. Let us hope that Congress never approves funding for the damnable wall that Trump never intended to build, and promised would not cost the taxpayers a dime.