Los Angeles attorney Ted Boutrous has been itching for a courtroom battle with President Donald Trump. Now, he’s got it.
Boutrous is taking on the president over the proposed end to a program that protects so-called Dreamers — children who were brought to the U.S. by undocumented immigrants. Last year, he offered free legal services to women Trump threatened to sue for claiming he sexually harassed them.
Boutrous sued Trump on Monday on behalf of six program participants, most of whom came from Mexico before they were 10. Trump’s decision to end the program in six months is a "cruel bait and switch" motivated by an "unconstitutional bias against Mexicans," according to the complaint.
More than a dozen state attorneys general sued earlier this month, alleging the plan to end President Barack Obama’s 2012 policy on Dreamers, formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is unconstitutional. And like the earlier suit, Boutrous claims Trump’s history of derogatory comments about Mexicans on the campaign trail, when he said many were rapists and criminals, are evidence that his decision is rooted in bigotry.
The lawsuit includes a variety of quotes, including one by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who characterized one such remark about Mexicans by Trump as “the textbook definition of a racist comment."
Trump’s action was entirely lawful, a White House official said in an email Monday. The president wants Congress to act and pass responsible immigration reform, which will include his priorities of massive border security and interior enforcement, the official said. Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Joanne Talbot declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Boutrous hasn’t shied away from criticizing Trump in the past. After Trump threatened to sue women who accused him of sexual assault and harassment — right after a 2005 recording surfaced in which Trump bragged that as a star he could grab women and get away with it — Boutrous offered on Twitter to “take any case pro bono” if Trump sued. Trump didn’t, but Boutrous said he gave legal assistance to a few women who feared they’d be taken to court.
"I was struck by the fact you had someone in a position of power, running for office, going after the free speech rights of individual citizens who were expressing their views," Boutrous, 56, said in a phone call. "It was so disrespectful of their rights as citizens, I felt compelled to speak out."
Boutrous had also blasted Trump over his criticism of U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was handling a fraud lawsuit against Trump University. Trump accused the Indiana-born judge of having a conflict because of his Mexican heritage. Boutrous called Trump’s comment “un-American” in an interview with BuzzFeed News.
Boutrous, the global co-chairman of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP’s litigation group, got involved in the Dreamer fight even before Trump’s decision to end DACA. The attorney was one of several who represented 23-year-old Ramirez Medina in a fight against deportation in March, though Trump isn’t a defendant in that case. It would have been the first time such an immigrant without a criminal record would have been removed. Ramirez was released from jail, but the case is still pending, Boutrous said.
"That case demonstrated the real unfairness and danger of the policies that the Trump administration was rolling out, and it seemed to signify that there had been a real shift away from respecting the rights of individuals who had gone thorough the DACA program," Boutrous said. "Our client had done everything right and there was no basis for detaining him."
Boutrous, who grew up in North Dakota, describes himself as a moderate Democrat, but has worked on issues on both sides of the political aisle.
Trump tweeted DACA’s demise on Sept. 5, but gave the program a six-month lifeline so Congress could try to pass a law to protect the Dreamers. The president later surprised his supporters by working with Democrats on a possible DACA bill. He tweeted on Sept. 14: "Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!"
Trump’s apparent change of heart didn’t dissuade Boutrous, who claims the president’s plan is just another example of Mexicans and Latinos being used as political pawns.
"It’s hard to understand where Trump is heading with these comments," Boutrous said. "If Congress passes a statute that enshrines DACA into law and the president signs it, that would be wonderful. But until that happens, all these young people are at risk."
Among those suing to block the president’s plan are San Diego attorney Dulce Garcia, who was brought to the U.S. illegally from Mexico when she was four and Viridiana Chabolla Mendoza, who was brought to the U.S. when she was two and is now a first-year medical student at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. The others include a psychology student and a special education teacher.
The Dreamer cases are likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, where Boutrous has plenty of experience. In 2011, he convinced the justices to reverse what had been the largest employment class-action certification in the nation’s history in a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sex discrimination case. That set new standards for how such lawsuits can be filed.
Two years later, Boutrous helped win another unanimous Supreme Court decision enforcing the Class Action Fairness Act, which helped corporations facing such suits. Boutrous also represented plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case that invalidated California’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8.