On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel rejected a legal challenge to a prototype of Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border. The state of California joined with environmental groups to block the wall in court, alleging that the Department of Homeland Security violated environmental protection laws in authorizing the prototype’s construction. Curiel tossed out their lawsuits, ruling that DHS has authority to waive the regulations in question.
Trump cheered the decision, declaring on Twitter that a “U.S. judge sided with the Trump Administration and rejected the attempt to stop the government from building a great Border Wall on the Southern Border.” The president’s views on Curiel have apparently evolved since the 2016 campaign, when the judge oversaw the notorious Trump University fraud case. In June 2016, Trump pilloried Curiel in explicitly racist terms, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper: “He’s a Mexican. We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. … I’ve had horrible rulings, I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. … Look, he’s proud of his heritage, OK? I’m building a wall.” Trump also called Curiel “a hater.”
Now that Curiel has ruled in favor of the Trump administration, the president seems to have upgraded him from a deeply biased “Mexican” to a “U.S. judge.” In fact, Curiel has been American all long: He was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, making him a citizen from birth. Trump’s earlier intimations to the contrary were mere nativist ramblings. Curiel appears to have set aside any personal resentment he might understandably feel toward Trump in the impartial discharge of his judicial duties. But he did sneak a very sly jab at the president into his opinion:
That’s right: In a citation to the Supreme Court’s first Obamacare ruling, Curiel pointed out that both he and Chief Justice John Roberts are “Indiana native[s].”
This barbed easter egg appears in the second paragraph of the 101-page opinion. No one expects Trump to read the whole thing. But if the president can at least make it through the first two pages, he’ll see that his new favorite “U.S. judge” hasn’t forgotten about the time that Trump questioned his integrity and citizenship solely on account of his heritage.