Donald Trump's remarks on federal judge's Mexican heritage criticized

By Eric DuVall   |   June 3, 2016 at 1:10 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 3 (UPI) -- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump renewed attacks on the Mexican-American judge overseeing lawsuits relating to Trump University, leading a top Republican to express his fear Trump is doing permanent damage to the GOP with Hispanic voters.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel is unfit to oversee two class action lawsuits against Trump over his now-defunct Trump University because he has "Mexican heritage" and is predisposed to dislike Trump because of his strict positions on illegal immigration.

Trump first spoke out against Curiel earlier this week during a rally in San Diego, where the federal case is being adjudicated, calling him a "disgrace" and "a hater of Donald Trump."

"The judge ... happens to be Mexican, which is great. I think that's fine," Trump said at the San Diego rally.

Curiel is not Mexican. He was born in Indiana. His parents are Mexican immigrants.

On Thursday, he raised the issue again with The Wall Street Journal.

"I'm building a wall" on the U.S.-Mexican border, Trump said. "It's an inherent conflict of interest."

The comments, taken in context with Trump's opening campaign salvo, where he likened Mexican immigrants to "rapists" and "murderers," have caused concern in Republican circles, that Trump is doing permanent damage to the GOP's efforts to win over Latino voters.

The party's stance on illegal immigration aided President Barack Obama in winning a huge landslide among Latino voters in the last two presidential elections -- prior to Trump's proposals to deport 11 million illegal immigrants and build a massive wall on the southern border.

Asked whether Trump's comments could permanently drive Latinos into the Democratic Party, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it is a major concern.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper asked McConnell whether Trump could have a "Goldwater effect," referencing the GOP's 1964 nominee Barry Goldwater, who opposed civil rights legislation, leading black voters who had long leaned Republican to switch their allegiance to the Democrats -- a seismic demographic shift that still has a profound impact on elections 50 years later.

McConnell said he does worry Trump's rhetoric on Latinos could have a lasting impact, much like the conservative Goldwater's stance on civil rights did for black voters.

"It did define our party, for at least African-American voters, and it still does today," McConnell said. "That was a complete shift that occurred that year and we've never be able to get them back. So I think it was a defining moment for Republicans with regard to the accomplishments that we had made for African-Americans going back to the Civil War."

In addition to the criticism Trump has received for the potential political ramifications for his escalating attacks on Curiel, legal scholars have expressed concern for Trump's respect for an independent judiciary.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Burbank told The Wall Street Journal it was "absolute nonsense" that anyone criticize a federal judge based on his ethnicity, let alone for the criticism to come from a candidate for president.

"If this continues, I would hope that some prominent federal judges would set Mr. Trump straight on what's appropriate and what's not in our democracy," Burbank said.

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