Paul Ryan says Donald Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel are “textbook” racist comments. But, I practice discrimination law and I am not sure what textbook racist comments are. Like most lawyers, I look to pertinent statutes for authority. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act describes discrimination as a personnel action that cannot otherwise be explained and there is evidence indicating race was a motive.
So, looking at the presidential candidate’s remarks that bothered Paul Ryan and others, Donald Trump said Judge Curiel could not be impartial about the Trump University lawsuit because he is “Mexican.” Speaker Ryan felt that statement alone was racist. Well, first, ethnicity is mentioned by Mr. Trump. So, there is evidence that race or ethnic background is an possible motive. Can his reference to the judge’s ethnic background be otherwise explained? No, not really. There is no good reason to mention his ethnicity.
Trump apologists would argue, as many employers would, that Mr. Trump actually meant that because he is Mexican-American, he is likely to oppose Mr. Trump’s plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico. But, that argument would lose. First, any reference to race or ethnic origin is always suspect. Most judges would be suspicious of any defense of a statement which includes a reference to race or ethnic origin. Second, Judge Curiel’s family comes from Mexico. Their Mexican origin does not necessarily mean he would oppose the wall. Maybe its just my limited experience here in San Antonio, Texas, but I have known a good many conservative Mexican-Americans who oppose illegal immigration. I am sure out of some tens of millions of Mexican-Americans in the U.S., there are surely at least one or two who support in principle the creation of a wall on the border.
So, in the end, if this were a motion for summary judgment against Donald Trump, he would lose. Bringing up someone’s race or ethnic origin in this country is itself questionable. And, sometimes, cases are won or lost simply based on first impressions. We would think a candidate for president would have learned that lesson by now.