A federal judge whom President Trump personally attacked in 2016 handed Trump a key judicial victory Tuesday, ruling that the president can waive environmental laws to speed up construction of his border wall. Judge Gonzalo Curiel—whom then-candidate Trump famously accused back in 2016 of being biased against the Trump campaign because of his Mexican heritage—said that his ruling is not a statement on whether he thinks the wall is a good idea; only that he has determined that the government legally has the power to build it.
“It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices,” Curiel wrote.
Trump plans 722 miles of new or replacement fencing along the border. To facilitate construction, he intends to waive approximately three-dozen environmental laws in the construction zones, including the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and Eagle Protection Act.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and environmental organizations Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity all sued to challenge these environmental waivers. In their lawsuit, the three argued that waiving the laws was unconstitutional. Curiel rejected this argument.
The Center for Biological Diversity said it will appeal. The organization and other conservation groups said that construction of border fencing under the environmental waivers has already caused deadly floods in several border communities, destroyed some Native American burial sites, and killed thousands of animals.
Other legal challenges to the wall may yet arise from private landowners. The wall’s pathway cuts through swaths of private property in some places.
And before any wall construction begins, the administration must secure funding. The wall is forecast to cost $20 billion, but a first installment of $1.6 billion has been held up in Congress for more than a year.