A federal judge, whom President Donald Trump previously lambasted as biased and “a hater” because of his Hispanic ethnicity, on Tuesday ruled in favor of the Department of Homeland Security, allowing the federal government to bypass environmental regulations to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California concluded the court had no “serious constitutional doubts,” about the constitutionality of a law passed by Congress that allows the Attorney General to waive certain environmental regulations to expedite border construction.
“Moreover, prior challenges to the [law] broadening its waiver authority in 2005 have been upheld as constitutional,” wrote Curiel in the decision published Tuesday.
Brian Segee, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, the Center for Biological Diversity, told KPBS in San Diego that the ruling “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,” Segee told KPBS. “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.”
The environmental organization plans to appeal the decision, and is part of a coalition of organizations that filed the lawsuit against the federal government.
Those plaintiffs, including the California Attorney General, the California Coastal Commission, the Sierra Club, and others, argued that there are “serious constitutional concerns” with a section of the federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act which effectively “grants an unelected cabinet official with unbridled power to waive any law that has any remote connection to border security projects.”
That section allows the Attorney General to “take such actions as may be necessary to install additional physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the United States border to deter illegal crossings in areas of high illegal entry into the United States.”
Acknowledging the heated political debate surrounding the need and funding for a border wall, Curiel wrote that the court wouldn’t take into consideration whether the decision to build the wall was politically wise or prudent.
Curiel instead quoted Chief Justice John Roberts, who said in a similar politically charged case, “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.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump disparaged Curiel’s Mexican ancestry, calling him “a hater” and making unfounded claims that Curiel—who was born in Indiana—was unfair to him when he ruled against the fraudulent Trump University. In subsequent interviews, Trump speculated that Curiel’s unfavorable ruling was because of Trump’s rhetoric about a border wall.
Meanwhile, in Congress some House Republicans are working to help the White House circumvent a series of cornerstone environmental laws in pursuit of a border wall, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.
Several bills before Congress would allow the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Patrol to construct physical barriers and conduct border patrols on federal or tribal land without regard to 36 different laws, as reported by ThinkProgress earlier this month.