The San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association along with Tom Homann LGBT Law Association and Justicia Criminal Defense Lawyers announce their response to Donald Trump’s misleading remarks regarding the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association and his repeated comments regarding U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
By Luis O. Osuna, San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association President
In recent days our organization and Judge Curiel have become the targets of Donald Trump’s attacks. The comments made by Trump have been misleading, blatant lies and even racist in nature. Given the amount of attention that Trump’s remarks have produced, this statement seeks to clarify who we are as an association, our purpose and the abject impropriety of Trump’s criticism of Judge Curiel and his attacks on the independence of the judiciary.
A part of the general public has made assumptions about our organization based on our association’s name. It is important to note that while the term “La Raza” literally translates into “the race”, its literal translation does not reflect its cultural meaning. In that context La Raza refers to the concept of the power of the people working together in the name of justice in the face of adversity. It is in this sense in which our association’s name invokes “La Raza.”
The San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association (SDLRLA) is a local diversity bar association whose reputation among the San Diego legal community is highly regarded. Our focus is “to advance the cause of equality, empowerment and justice for Latino attorneys and the Latino community in San Diego County through service and advocacy. We are dedicated to promoting diversity on both the bench and bar…” .
SDLRLA is made up of lawyers, judges, law students and other professionals who work with lawyers in a professional capacity. Our membership of about 300 individuals is not monolithic, consisting of conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats and Latinos and non-Latinos alike.
We provide our members with professional development seminars, professional networking events, mentorship programs and award scholarships and bar stipends open to law students of all ethnic backgrounds. In addition, we provide the Latino community with information about legal resources, organize “Know Your Rights” seminars and host candidate debates during local elections that focus on issues primarily affecting the Latino community. While our association is non-partisan, we do endorse candidates whose values align with our mission statement; however, such endorsements have included candidates from both major political parties.
Contrary to what Trump has stated, we are not affiliated with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). NCLR is a wholly independent civil rights and advocacy non-profit organization. SDLRLA has not been involved in organizing any Trump protests, nor do we work in conjunction with NCLR.
As an association that provides limited services, we direct members of the Latino community in need of help to other organizations. As such, on our site we have a page titled, “For the Community” which lists links to numerous organizations across the country that serve the Latino community. These organizations focus on various issues, including police practices, healthcare, immigration and human trafficking, to name a few. On this page there is a link to NCLR’s website, constituting the only tenuous connection SDLRLA has to NCLR.
Furthermore, SDLRLA does not condone any of the violence exhibited by both sides of the protests taking place outside of Trump rallies throughout the country. Our association is committed to effecting change through lawful means and firmly believes that violence only serves to undercut otherwise legitimate concerns.
Regarding Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel. Judge Curiel is a member of our association, as are many other local attorneys and judges of all ethnic backgrounds. By now, most people are aware of the barrage of attacks levied by Trump. Specifically, Trump’s racist remarks claiming that Judge Curiel’s Mexican heritage makes him incapable of acting in an unbiased manner while presiding over two of the Trump University suits.
Appropriately so, the judicial code of conduct does not allow Judge Curiel to respond to Trump’s unjustified attacks. Nevertheless, it is imperative to clarify that we are not speaking for him, but rather, are speaking as legal professionals concerned about the baseless attacks on a man of integrity and their wider implications. As fellow members of the professional legal community, it is incumbent upon us to defend Judge Curiel’s unimpeachable integrity and to highlight the dangers of such criticism of a federal judge by a presumptive presidential nominee.
Judge Curiel, who is a U.S.-born citizen, is a well respected member of the legal community. His reputation is held in high esteem by attorneys who have encountered him both as a federal prosecutor and as a state or federal judge. He is an exemplar of public service who risked his life in prosecuting members of the Arellano-Felix drug cartel, a task which he courageously took on to protect Americans and successfully carried out–his own Mexican heritage notwithstanding.
The notion that Judge Curiel’s Mexican heritage is precluding him from being impartial in presiding over the suits involving Trump is completely at odds with the views of legal experts across the country and untethered from reality. African-American judges have presided over civil rights cases; female judges have presided over gender discrimination matters; both have done so impartially. One need only look to Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court who has repeatedly ruled to strike down laws enacted to protect the rights of African-Americans, despite his own ethnic background.
If we allow Trump’s comments to become perfunctory within the normal parameters of political discourse, then we risk descending into a country that reduces every individual down to their ethnic heritage, gender, religion or political ideology. Inevitably, leading us to use these metrics to measure an individual’s abilities.
Trump’s repeated accusations of Judge Curiel display an utter lack of understanding for the role we play as attorneys and judges sworn to follow the law and uphold the constitution. We do not question Trump’s First Amendment right to give his opinion as a named defendant to a civil suit; however, Trump is not the average civilian–he is the presumptive presidential nominee for one of the two major political parties.
This fact should raise concerns among all Americans on both ends of the political spectrum. His persistent attacks on Judge Curiel are not only racist, but they provide an ominous portent of how Trump would use the power of the presidency to intimidate federal judges. Such wielding of executive power poses a threat to all Americans, as it is an independent judiciary and a respect of the separation of powers mandated by the constitution that secures our civil liberties and freedom. Moreover, Trump’s comments only serve to foment the public’s distrust of our nation’s judicial system, thereby undermining one of the three pillars of our democracy.
For the foregoing reasons, we call on other bar associations to join us in denouncing Trump’s comments and demand that he retract his remarks.