Trump’s comments on the judge in the Trump University case are curiel indeed.
He leads with his chin, making the most of the fact that Curiel is “Mexican”. That allows the mainstream press to pummel him. Curiel is from Indiana fer chrissakes. And since when should ethnicity in itself be a reason for disqualification or recusal? And it’s racist.
Trump himself does little to make a more nuanced argument. When Jake Tapper describes Trump’s position as being opposed to Curiel handing the case because he is “of Mexican origin”, Trump agrees. “He’s Mexican descent. I’m building a wall.”
Former AG Alberto Gonzales sort of sticks up for Trump, but it is not a full-throated defense, and consists mainly in maintaining that he has a right to ask. That’s not very strong stuff, particularly in comparison with the flammable way Trump has chosen to frame the issue–it’s about “Mexican.”
So is Trump crazy or crazy like a fox?
Damned if I know.
Maybe he is just trying to rile up the poorly educated yahoos and that’s all there is to it. But there could be more. Is there more to Trump’s objection to Curiel, even if he has yet to articulate it?
There has been a lot of ink spilled on whether the La Raza lawyer’s group that Curiel is affiliated with backs the political program of the larger advocacy group, La Raza. There is no direct affiliation, and Right and Left are now furiously trying to make or discount connections. The idea is that the greater the affiliative and personal ties between the two groups the better the argument for recusal. But it is all kind of gray, a shade which is at odds with the black-and-white way Trump has formulated the issue.
So here maybe is a better, clearer tie. Curiel may not be a member of La Raza but he does appear to be a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA). That association–which is an association of attorneys, a professional association, and not an ethnic advocacy group–called for a boycott of all Trump enterprises.
The HNBA calls for a boycott of all of Trump business ventures, including golf courses, hotels, and restaurants. We salute NBC/Universal, Univision and Macy’s for ending their association with Trump, and we join them in standing up against bigotry and racist rhetoric. Other businesses and corporations should follow the lead of NBC/Universal, Univision and Macy’s and take similar actions against Donald Trump’s business interests. We can and will make a difference.
This looks pretty damning to me. It is one thing to say “hey, I’m not in La Raza” or “yes I am of Mexican descent but what of it?” or even “yes I oppose Trump’s politics but that would not taint my judicial approach.” But here, we have a professional association of attorneys openly calling for economic harm to Trump’s businesses.
Now, to be fair, Curiel’s Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees does not suggest a professional record of activism. Divorces. Municipal law. Some criminal cases. He was for over a decade a federal prosecutor with significant involvement in drug and money laundering cases dealing with Mexico and a few times attended events dealing with Latino issues. But his legal and prosecutorial work was essentially unrelated to immigration, and his work outside work shows little activism.
The judicial process must be administered fairly without regard to a person’s background, economic situation or personal situation. Cases must be decided based upon admissible evidence and the applicable law. Empathy does not play a role in the judicial process. . . . A judge protects the “little guy”(and the “big guy”) by applying the law fairly and evenhandedly to all of the parties whether they are“little” or “big.”
On the other hand, he describes himself in the Questionnaire as being a “lifetime member” of HNBA (p. 4). Additionally, he is quite forthright in describing how he would always take the prudent high road on conflicts of interest and recusal (pp. 45-46). For instance, he says that if confirmed he would likely step down from a Board position at a non-profit K-8 learning academy, this when the law permits a judge to hold such a position and when he has never had occasion to play a part in a case where any conflict would arise. So he expresses all the correct careful notes, as he should. But now here he is–a lifetime member of a group officially on record as favoring damage to Trump’s economic interests–serving as a judge on a case dealing with Trump’s economic interests. Surely there is enough in just this set of facts to suggest that some concern would be appropriate.
So why does Trump continue to lead with his chin? He briefly mentions Curiel’s memberships in the Tapper interview but mostly passes the issue by. Is it because he is a Neanderthal? That he doesn’t grasp the significance of HNBA’s call for a boycott? That he is just inarticulate?
Or does he get it?
Trump has sometimes been likened to Ali. The Donald could be doing a rope-a-dope.