National Law Journal
By Zoe Tillman
June 9, 2016
Donald Trump’s remarks questioning the impartiality of a California federal judge because of his Hispanic heritage have drawn harsh rebukes from across the legal community.
In statements over the past week, leaders of the American Bar Association, Hispanic lawyers’ groups and other national lawyer membership groups decried Trump’s statements about U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel as an attack on the independence of the judiciary.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has repeatedly criticized Curiel, who is handling a fraud case in San Diego federal district court against the now-defunct Trump University. Trump accused the judge of wrongly ruling against him on various issues in the case, and claimed there was a “conflict of interest” because Curiel is the son of immigrants from Mexico and had ties to Hispanic lawyer organizations. Trump in his campaign has taken a hardline approach to immigration policy.
Trump issued a statement earlier this week saying that his comments about Curiel were “misconstrued,” but insisting that it was fair to question Curiel’s impartiality. ABA president Paulette Brown said in a statement that personal criticism of a judge “risks undermining judicial independence.”
Below, a roundup of reactions from national lawyer organizations:
Paulette Brown, president, American Bar Association
“While publicly criticizing judicial decisions is every person’s constitutional right, levying personal criticism at an individual judge and suggesting punitive action against that judge for lawfully made decisions crosses the line of propriety and risks undermining judicial independence. Anyone running for the highest office in the land should understand that the independence of the judiciary is essential for an effective and orderly government and justice system.”
Richard Burbidge, president, International Academy of Trial Lawyers
“We recognize that honest political debate in the executive and legislative branches of government is a healthy exercise under our Constitution. However, when such debate becomes an attack designed to undermine the integrity of the judicial branch, where independence is critical to protect the rights and privileges of every citizen, no one should be silent. If a party disagrees with a judge’s decision, the system which has existed for almost 250 years, provides an opportunity for review.”
Robert Maldonado, president, Hispanic National Bar Association
“His personal attacks on Judge Curiel show a dangerous disregard and disrespect for separate and co-equal branches of government. His irrelevant reference to Judge Curiel’s ethnicity is an attack on all of the honorable diverse members of our judiciary who serve this country. As the presumptive presidential nominee of a major political party, his attempts to undermine the integrity of our federal judicial system are truly unprecedented and place undue stress on our democracy.”
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
“The notion that a judge’s racial/ethnic background could disqualify him or her from hearing a case has been repeatedly rejected by the federal courts; indeed, the Supreme Court has rejected such race-based challenges as unconstitutional in the context of jury selection. There are very serious public policy implications linked to this public smearing of a highly respected federal judge.”
Larry Tawwater, president, American Association for Justice
“As an association of advocates for Americans who rely on the civil justice system to ensure their rights under the law are protected and enforced, the American Association for Justice condemns any threat to a fair and impartial judiciary. Political attacks on individual judges, including those based on a judge’s ethnicity or religious background, jeopardize the fair administration of justice and threaten to undermine the Rule of Law.”
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