Judge mulls arguments in border wall lawsuit

SAN DIEGO --  A San Diego federal judge listened to two and a half hours of arguments Friday about a lawsuit challenging the Trump administrations plan to bypass environmental laws to build a new security wall along the U.S. Mexico border.

The case, which is being brought by the state of California and multiple groups, challenges the Department of Homeland Security's power to waive environmental laws in their construction of a border wall.

The plaintiffs, the state of California and lawyers for the Trump administration presented their arguments to District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel in his San Diego courtroom. He took the arguments under submission and is expected to make a ruling on the case next week.

Outside the courtroom, a couple of dozen demonstrators gathered holding signs protesting the wall.

The plaintiffs argue that the Trump administration is violating the Constitution and state laws because it is not "conducting any environmental review or complying with any environmental protection laws." But the federal government, citing a 1996 immigration law, says it has the authority to waive environmental laws in order to build the wall, a top campaign promise of President Donald Trump.

The administration notes that previous challenges to this law have been unsuccessful, saying it "has been repeatedly upheld in the face of legal challenges."

California Supervising Deputy Attorney General Michael Cayaban disagreed with the Trump Administration's position that the court did not have jurisdiction to decide the issue.

Curiel said he thought he did and asked for more briefing on the case. A decision is expected next week.

Brian Segee, an attorney representing the Center for Biological Diversity, said the government's power to waive certain state laws was being used "unfairly.''

Segee said pulling up old border fencing creates waste and "California has a stake in protecting their resources,'' including wildlife and ecosystems.

An attorney for the Trump Administration, Galen Thorp, told the court that it lacked jurisdiction on all constitutional challenges to the border wall project.

Curiel questioned if "consultations'' with affected parties came before the project was approved by Congress or after.

Thorp said the plaintiffs have thrown in the "kitchen sink'' of constitutional issues in their legal challenge.

Thorp told the judge that construction may begin Feb. 15 on some of the wall project in Calexico. Construction delays have pushed back any erecting of walls in San Diego to mid-June, Thorp said.

Before the hearing, about 30 demonstrators held signs outside the federal courthouse that read, "No Wall in the Wild'' and "No Border Wall.''

"It's cruel, inhumane, and an extremely expensive wall,'' said J.P. Rose, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Trump came under fierce criticism in June 2016 when he said Curiel, who was born in Indiana, was biased due to his Mexican heritage. At the time, the judge was overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University, which was ultimately settled after Trump won the White House.

"We are building a wall. He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico," Trump told CNN's Jake Tapper in 2016.

The attacks on Curiel were widely condemned and characterized as racist by both Democrats and Republicans. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the criticism was the "the textbook definition of a racist comment."

Last year, Curiel also heard a case concerning a man who claimed he was improperly deported by the Trump administration.