Gonzalo P. Curiel

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Gonzalo Curiel
Gonzalo Curiel.jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California
Assumed office
October 1, 2012
Appointed byBarack Obama
Preceded byThomas J. Whelan
Personal details
Born (1953-09-07) September 7, 1953 (age 67)
East Chicago, Indiana, U.S.
EducationIndiana University (BA, JD)

Gonzalo Paul Curiel (born September 7, 1953) is a United States district judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Curiel was born in East Chicago, Indiana, the youngest of four children. Their parents, Salvador and Francisca, had emigrated from Mascota, a small Mexican town near Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco. Salvador worked as a laborer in Arizona before moving to Indiana where he worked in the steel mills.[nb 1] Curiel's parents married in 1946 and later became American citizens.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Curiel graduated from high school at the Bishop Noll Institute.[2] He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University in 1976 and his Juris Doctor from the Indiana University School of Law in 1979 and is a member of the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi.[3][4][7][8]

Pre-judicial career[edit]

Curiel worked in private practice, first at James, James & Manning from 1979 to 1986 and then at Barbosa & Vera from 1986 to 1989.[4][7] He was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of California from 1989 to 2002.[3][4][7] While in the Southern District, he served as Deputy Chief (1996–1999) and then Chief (1999–2002) of the Narcotics Enforcement Division.[3][4][7]

During his tenure with the Narcotics Enforcement Division, Curiel handled a case involving two alleged members of the Arellano Felix cartel of Tijuana, Mexico.[5][6] U.S. law enforcement arrested the two alleged murderers in California, based on information from Mexican authorities, and Curiel sought their extradition to Mexico.[9] The two men objected to extradition by arguing that the information used to track them down had been obtained in Mexico via torture. Curiel argued: "The [U.S.] Government is not here to deny there is a possibility of torture....There are serious allegations of torture. But the forum for those allegations to be aired is the Government of Mexico."[9]

While still in United States custody, one of the men allegedly threatened Curiel's life, so that Curiel had to live under federal protection for a time.[1][9][10][11] The extradition case went up to a federal appeals court, with Curiel arguing the case.[12] The appeals court decided that the extradition could proceed, saying that there was enough evidence to support it without using the evidence allegedly obtained via torture.[12] Curiel hailed the ruling, which he said might lead to greater cooperation between the two countries in the fight against the drug cartel.[13]

Curiel then worked as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Central District of California from 2002 to 2006.[3][4][7]

Judicial career[edit]

California Superior Court[edit]

In 2006, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Curiel to the San Diego County Superior Court.[14][15] He held that position until his appointment to the federal bench.[7]

Federal judicial service[edit]

On November 10, 2011, President Barack Obama nominated Curiel to serve as a judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.[7] He replaced Judge Thomas J. Whelan, who had taken senior status. Curiel was rated "well qualified" by a substantial majority of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which evaluates federal judicial nominees.[16]

Curiel received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 28, 2012, which reported his nomination to the Senate on April 26, 2012, by voice vote. In the early hours of September 22, 2012, on what was officially still the legislative day of September 21, the Senate confirmed Curiel by voice vote. He received his commission on October 1, 2012.[3]

Trump University lawsuits[edit]

In February 2014, Curiel certified Tarla Makaeff v. Trump University as a class action case that alleged Trump University was "a basically fraudulent endeavor",[17] and he accepted residents of three states as members of that class.[18] In October 2014, Curiel certified Cohen v. Trump as another national class action against then-entrepreneur Donald Trump.[19][20] In March 2016, Curiel allowed Makaeff to withdraw her name from the first lawsuit, and the case was retitled Low v. Trump University.[17][21]

In May 2016, Curiel granted a request by the Washington Post for public release of certain Trump University documents and depositions that had been filed in the case.[17][22] Curiel scheduled a trial to begin in the Low case on November 28, 2016, in San Diego.[23] He had planned to start the trial in the summer of 2016, but postponed it until after the 2016 Presidential election because of concerns that jurors would be affected by a "media frenzy" if the trial took place before the election.[23]

In November 2016, after Trump had been elected president, his attorneys asked that the case be delayed until after Trump's inauguration, set for January 20, 2017. Curiel denied the request but urged the parties to pursue a settlement, and recruited District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller to facilitate settlement talks.[24] On November 18 a $25 million settlement of all three pending cases (Curiel's two class-action suits plus a suit filed by the attorney general of New York) was announced and was certified by Curiel.[25] Implementation of the settlement was delayed because one individual claimant wished to pursue a separate lawsuit. A district court and an appeals court rejected that individual's claim, and Curiel finalized the settlement in April 2018. Former students can now get a refund of up to 90% of the money they spent on courses.[26]

During the campaign Trump repeatedly criticized Curiel in campaign speeches and interviews, calling him a "hater of Donald Trump", saying his rulings have been unfair, and that Curiel "happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great. I think that's fine",[27] while suggesting that the judge's ethnicity posed a conflict of interest in light of Trump's proposal to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.[1][17][23][28][29] Curiel wrote in court papers that Trump has "placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue",[1][17][22] but is forbidden from responding publicly to Trump's claims in view of rules against public commentary by judges on active cases.[17]

Legal experts were critical of Trump's original attacks on Curiel, viewing them as racially charged, unfounded, and an affront to the concept of an independent judiciary.[30][31][32][33][34][35] On June 7, 2016 Trump issued a lengthy statement saying that his criticism of the judge had been "misconstrued" and that his concerns about Curiel's impartiality were not based upon ethnicity alone, but also upon rulings in the case.[36][37] In reply, Cato Institute fellow Nat Hentoff wrote that thus far in the case, Curiel had ruled in Trump's favor far more often than not, including granting his motion to delay the trial until after the 2016 presidential election, and concluded that "Donald Trump has an odd way of showing his appreciation for a trial judge who, as his attorney said, is just 'doing his job'."[38] In November 2017 at an appeals court hearing, one of Trump's attorneys said that Trump had changed his opinion of Curiel and now regarded his actions as a "textbook example of a district court properly administering a settlement."[26]

DACA lawsuit[edit]

In April 2017 Curiel was assigned to hear the case of a 23-year-old man whose lawyers say he was deported to Mexico on February 18 by the Border Patrol despite being registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, having arrived in the United States from Mexico when he was 9 years old. The Department of Homeland Security says he was not deported and must have gone into Mexico from the United States voluntarily at some point. He was caught on February 19 trying to illegally cross the border into the United States from Mexico.[39][40]

U.S.–Mexico border wall case[edit]

Curiel also heard a case brought by the State of California and California Coastal Commission, a number of environmentalist groups, and U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva (Democrat of Arizona) that challenged waivers issued in 1996 and 2005 that allowed the federal government to bypass some federal and state environmental laws to promote border security. These waivers were granted under a 1996 immigration law. Three separate lawsuits were initially brought, challenging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's power to waive these laws to construct a border wall. Curiel consolidated these into a single case, In re Border Infrastructure Environmental Litigation.[41][42][43][44]

The plaintiffs argued that the waivers were ultra vires and not authorized by the 1996 immigration law; they also raised constitutional challenges grounded in the Nondelegation Doctrine, Take Care Clause, Presentment Clause, First Amendment and Tenth Amendment.[45][43] On February 27, 2018, Curiel granted summary judgment in favor of the Trump administration.[45][44]


Curiel was admitted to the bar in Illinois in 1979, in Indiana in 1980, and in California in 1986.[46]

Curiel is a member of American Bar Association, and served on the ABA's Hispanic Advisory Committee of the Commission on Public Understanding about the Law from 1993 to 1998.[46] He served on the State Bar of California's Criminal Law Advisory Commission from 1994 to 1998, spending one year as chair and another year as vice chair.[46] He also served on the board of directors of the San Diego County Judges Association and was a member of the California Judges Association.[46] He served on the San Diego Superior Court's Domestic Violence Committee from 2007 to 2010.[46] He is a member of the American Inns of Court, William B. Enright Chapter.[46]

Curiel is a member of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association, a nonprofit professional association of Latino lawyers that is affiliated with a statewide organization, the La Raza Lawyers of California.[47][48] Neither these groups nor Curiel are affiliated with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), an unrelated advocacy group.[47]

On his 2011 questionnaire, Curiel also noted that he was a "life-time member" of the Hispanic National Bar Association, and a member of the National Hispanic Prosecutors Association, as well as the Latino Judges Association.[46]

Personal life[edit]

Curiel is married. He and his wife, a court probation officer, have one daughter. He plays jazz guitar.[49]


  1. ^ It has been reported that Salvador came to the U.S. through the Bracero program which was established in 1942; Gonzalo's brother Raul says their father became a legal resident prior to the arrival of their mother Francisca in 1946.[2] Raul has also reportedly said that Salvador arrived in the U.S. in the 1920s.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Rappeport, Alan (June 3, 2016). "That Judge Attacked by Donald Trump? He's Faced a Lot Worse". The New York Times. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Malagon, Elvia (June 4, 2016). "E.C. native at center of Trump controversy". The Times of Northwest Indiana. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Curiel, Gonzalo Paul – Federal Judicial Center". www.fjc.gov.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Gonzalo Paul Curiel (November 11, 2011). "Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees" (PDF). United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Retrieved May 29, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Weiner, Tim (April 26, 2002). "New Web of Trust Topples a Mighty Mexican Cartel". New York Times. Retrieved May 29, 2016. ...the Mexicans looked across the table at Mr. Chavez, Mr. Vega and Mr. Curiel, all born of Mexican parents... '[Curiel said] this involves the country of our parents'...
  6. ^ a b "Hearing Before The Committee On The Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 112th Congress, 2nd Session (Senate Hearing 112–72, Part 7)". March 28, 2012. Retrieved May 30, 2016. ... '[Senator Blumenthal said] He's the son of immigrant parents from Mexico'... '[Judge Curiel said] As I indicated previously, my parents came here from Mexico'...
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Office of the Press Secretary (November 10, 2011). "President Obama Nominates Four to Serve on the US District Court Bench". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved May 29, 2016 – via National Archives.
  8. ^ Wilford Shamlin III, Latino judge bashed by Trump is member of Kappa Alpha Psi, Philadelphia Tribune (June 10, 2016).
  9. ^ a b c Preston, Julia and Pyes, Craig. "U.S.-Mexico Drug War: 2 Systems Collide", New York Times (July 23, 1997).
  10. ^ O'Connor, Anne-Marie (August 28, 1997). "Cartel May Have Targeted U.S. Prosecutor. Crime: Alleged gunman for Tijuana drug gang was taped threatening to arrange murder of official who is seeking his extradition, court documents say". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  11. ^ Alvord, Valerie (December 21, 1997). "Suspected hit men lose round in their extradition fight". San Diego Union-Tribune.
  12. ^ a b Mainero v. Gregg, 164 F.3d 1199 (9th Cir. 1999).
  13. ^ Diedoardo, Chris. "9th Circuit Sends Alleged Assassins Back To Mexico", San Diego Daily Transcript (January 7, 1999).
  14. ^ Factor, Christy (November 7, 2006). "Promotions and Appointments: Gov. Schwarzenegger appoints 2 San Diegans". The Daily Transcript. San Diego. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  15. ^ "Federal Prosecutor From Los Angeles Gets San Diego Judgeship". Metropolitan News-Enterprise. November 4, 2006. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  16. ^ Ratings of Article III Judicial Nominees: 112th Congress, American Bar Association Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Ford, Matt (June 3, 2016). "Why Is Donald Trump So Angry at Judge Gonzalo Curiel?". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  18. ^ Bauder, Don (March 1, 2014). "The Donald trumped in federal court here. His Trump University claims attacked by ex-students". San Diego Reader. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  19. ^ Warmerdam, Elizabeth (October 29, 2014). "Trump Must Answer Students in Fed Court". Courthouse News Service. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  20. ^ Berr, Jonathan (October 31, 2014). "Lawsuit accuses Donald Trump of deceiving students". CBS News. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  21. ^ Davis, Kristina (March 22, 2016). "Judge OKs Trump accuser's exit". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved June 3, 2016.
  22. ^ a b Hamburger, Tom (May 28, 2016). "Judge bashed by Trump orders release of company records". Washington Post. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  23. ^ a b c "Trial date set in Trump University lawsuit". CBS News. May 6, 2016. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  24. ^ "Settlement Urged In Trump University Fraud Trial". CBS Los Angeles. Associated Press. November 11, 2016. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  25. ^ "Donald Trump agrees to $25-million settlement in lawsuits against Trump University". Los Angeles Times. November 18, 2016. Retrieved November 19, 2016.
  26. ^ a b Criss, Doug (April 10, 2018). "A judge has finalized a $25 million settlement for students who claim they were defrauded by Trump University". CNN. Retrieved April 16, 2018.
  27. ^ Liptak, Adam (June 3, 2016). "Donald Trump Could Threaten U.S. Rule of Law, Scholars Say". New York Times. Mr. Trump accused the judge of bias, falsely said he was Mexican and seemed to issue a threat
  28. ^ East, Kristen (May 28, 2016). "Trump attacks 'Mexican' judge in Trump U lawsuit". Politico. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  29. ^ Finnegan, Michael (May 27, 2016). "Trump trashes judge overseeing Trump University fraud case, says it's fine that he's Mexican". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 29, 2016.
  30. ^ Kendall, Brent (June 3, 2016). "Trump Says Judge's Mexican Heritage Presents 'Absolute Conflict'". Wall Street Journal. Donald Trump on Thursday escalated his attacks on the federal judge presiding over civil fraud lawsuits against Trump University, amid criticism from legal observers who say the presumptive GOP presidential nominee's comments are an unusual affront on an independent judiciary
  31. ^ Ford, Matt (June 3, 2016). "Why Is Donald Trump So Angry at Judge Gonzalo Curiel?". The Atlantic. A growing chorus of American legal scholars from the left, right, and beyond says [Trump's] remarks threaten the rule of law. The real-estate businessman also has another problem: There's no evidence whatsoever in the public record to support Trump's claims about Curiel
  32. ^ DelReal, Jose; Zezima, Katie (June 1, 2016). "Trump's personal, racially tinged attacks on federal judge alarm legal experts". Washington Post. Donald Trump's highly personal, racially tinged attacks on a federal judge overseeing a pair of lawsuits against him have set off a wave of alarm among legal experts, who worry that the Republican presidential candidate's vendetta signals a remarkable disregard for judicial independence
  33. ^ Walshe, Shushannah; Keneally, Meghan (June 3, 2016). "Legal Experts Worry After Trump Attacks Judge for Alleged Bias, Judge's Brother Calls Trump a 'Blowhard'". ABC News.
  34. ^ Edwards, Haley (June 3, 2016). "Donald Trump's Attacks On Judge's Ethnicity Brings Back Sordid History". TIME.
  35. ^ Rappeport, Alan (June 3, 2016). "That Judge Attacked by Donald Trump? He's Faced a Lot Worse". New York Times. Experts in legal ethics say that seeking to discredit a judge is not a winning strategy and that the suggestion that Judge Curiel could not treat a case fairly because of his ethnicity raises questions about Mr. Trump’s ability to appoint judges
  36. ^ Jackson, David (June 7, 2016). "Trump says judge comments 'misconstrued' amid GOP uprising". USA Today. Retrieved June 8, 2016. I do not intend to comment on this matter any further
  37. ^ "Donald Trump’s Statement on Trump University", New York Times (June 7, 2016). This includes the full text of the Trump statement.
  38. ^ Why Judge Curiel May Be Donald Trump’s Best Friend. Nat Hentoff, Cato Institute, 9 June 2016.
  39. ^ Kopan, Tal (April 20, 2017). "Judge whose Mexican heritage Trump denigrated will hear deportation case". CNN. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  40. ^ Kopan, Tal; Jarrett, Laura (April 20, 2017). "This man's deportation is testing Trump's murky stance on DACA". CNN. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  41. ^ Devan Cole (February 9, 2018). "Judge criticized by Trump will hear case on border wall". CNN.
  42. ^ Eli Rosenberg (February 5, 2018). "The judge Trump disparaged as 'Mexican' will preside over an important border wall case". Washington Post.
  43. ^ a b Kylee Clark, Federal judge dismisses challenge to Trump's border wall, Jurist (February 28, 2018).
  44. ^ a b Order Denying Plaintiffs' Motions for Summary Judgment and Granting Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment, In re Border Infrastructure Environmental Litigation (S.D. Cal. Feb. 27, 2018).
  45. ^ a b Tal Kopan (February 28, 2018). "Judge Curiel, once attacked by Trump, rules border wall can proceed". CNN.
  46. ^ a b c d e f g "GonzaloCuriel-PublicQuestionnaire.pdf" (PDF). Judiciary.Senate.Gov. November 11, 2011.
  47. ^ a b Michelle Ye Hee Lee (June 7, 2016). "Trump supporters' false claim that Trump U judge is a member of a pro-immigrant group".
  48. ^ Cirilli, Kevin; Bender, Michael; Jacobs, Jennifer (June 7, 2016). "Trump Orders Surrogates to Intensify Criticism of Judge and Journalists". Bloomberg News.
  49. ^ Totenberg, Nina (June 7, 2016). "Who Is Judge Gonzalo Curiel, The Man Trump Attacked For His Mexican Ancestry?". NPR. Retrieved June 8, 2016.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Thomas J. Whelan
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California