Donald Trump’s personal attacks on judge spark GOP concerns

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Washington | Published: June 4, 2016 6:17:25 PM

The federal judge who's hearing a Trump University lawsuit is "a hater of Donald Trump" and ought to be removed from the case...

The federal judge who’s hearing a Trump University lawsuit is “a hater of Donald Trump” and ought to be removed from the case.

So says Donald Trump, in just one of the recent comments by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee that have legal experts worrying about his commitment to an independent judiciary and his views on presidential powers.

In the midst of a heated presidential campaign, Trump has expressed unusually personal criticism focusing on the judge’s Mexican heritage though his lawyers have never actually sought to have the judge removed.

His comments are bringing overwhelming disapproval from politicians and lawyers in his own Republican Party. Yesterday, House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the statements about the judge: “It’s reasoning I don’t relate to, I completely disagree with the thinking behind that.”

And conservative legal scholars say Trump’s statements reinforce their worries that he seems to think he can do whatever he wants and disregard rules and conventions that constrain other political candidates.

“The concern is that he would act unbounded in the presidency, in a way that doesn’t follow the law,” said John McGinnis, a Northwestern University law professor.

Criticism of the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary has been a regular feature of recent Republican presidential campaigns, including proposals to strip federal judges of lifetime tenure and reduce the budgets of liberal-leaning courts.

Those ideas, though, did not single out judges or focus on race, ethnicity or religion.

“Here it’s just about Trump,” said Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler.

More troubling, Adler said, is that the recent comments seem to fit a pattern of intemperate remarks Trump has made during the campaign.

“He said he would give military officers unlawful orders and expect them to comply,” Adler said, referring to Trump’s claim that the military would follow his orders to torture suspected terrorists. Trump has since backed off on that.

“He has repeatedly given indications he has no appreciation for the rule of law,” Adler said.

Trump made his first reported comments about US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in February, linking Curiel’s Mexican heritage with what Trump described as the judge’s “tremendous hostility” over Trump’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border.

Trump has variously referred to Curiel as Spanish, Mexican and Hispanic and has called the judge “a hater of Donald Trump.” He told The Wall Street Journal that Curiel has “an absolute conflict of interest” because of his heritage as well as “an inherent conflict of interest” because Trump wants to build the border wall.

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