Judge Gonzalo Curiel
Judge Gonzalo Curiel

A San Diego-based federal judge — whose credibility was once criticized by then-candidate Donald Trump over his Mexican heritage — rejected an environmental challenge Tuesday to early elements of the president’s proposed border wall.

In a 101-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel upheld federal environmental waivers that were granted for the construction of border wall prototypes in San Diego and the replacement of 18 miles of existing border fence in the San Diego and El Centro areas.

Federal authorities have said the stretch of fencing in question is no longer functional to protect the border.

Curiel wrote that he “does not have serious constitutional doubts” about the waivers.

The judge noted that his decision was made separate from the “heated political debate” over the need for a border wall and the funding of such a project.

“In its review of this case, the court cannot and does not consider whether underlying decisions to construct the border barriers are politically wise or prudent,” Curiel wrote.

He went on to cite a quote from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a “fellow Indiana native,” who said courts are designed to interpret the law, not make policy judgments, which are made by elected representatives.

“Here, the court will focus on whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to enact the challenged law and whether the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security properly exercised the powers delegated by Congress,” Curiel wrote.

At issue was a 2005 law that gave the Department of Homeland Security broad powers to waive laws requiring environmental and other reviews, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit over the wall, and was joined by the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also filed suit to stop construction of the wall.

Becerra said he will continue opposition to the wall, despite Curiel’s ruling.

“We remain unwavering in our belief that the Trump Administration is ignoring laws it doesn’t like in order to resuscitate a campaign talking point of building a wall on our southern border,” he said.

“We will evaluate all of our options and are prepared to do what is necessary to protect our people, our values and our economy from federal overreach. A medieval wall along the U.S.- Mexico border simply does not belong in the 21st Century.”

Trump signaled his approval in a tweet on Tuesday, but did not mention Curiel by name.

Earlier this month, the federal government began replacing a little more than two miles of border wall in Calexico.

Construction delays have pushed back any erecting of walls in San Diego to at least mid-June, according to Galen Thorp, an attorney for the Trump administration. President Trump is scheduled to tour the border wall prototypes in San Diego next month.

In 2016, Judge Curiel’s credibility came under fire from Trump in response to rulings Curiel had made in his handling of lawsuits against the presidential candidate’s business-education program known as Trump University. Trump suggested that Curiel’s Mexican heritage made him biased, given Trump’s hard-line stances on immigration and criticism of Mexican immigrants.

City News Service contributed to this article.

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