President Trump wants the judge behind the Texas political world’s most famous Twitter account to serve on a federal appeals court.
On Thursday, the White House named Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett as one of its four intended nominees for the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals. A conservative jurist who has sat on the state’s high court since 2005, Willett is also a prolific and witty social media presence, with nearly 100,000 followers as of early Friday.
The other candidates announced by the White House: Dallas attorney James Ho, Louisiana attorney Kyle Duncan and U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt. Conservative legal circles cheered the nominees, which require Senate confirmation.
“Texas Justice Don Willett and Louisiana attorney and professor Kyle Duncan, in particular, embody President Trump’s commitment to picking judges who have a record of excellence and a commitment to a judicial role that is impartial rather than committed to a particular personal or legal agenda,” the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo said in a statement.
Willett, however, is as well known for his social media as his legal work. The justice’s online activity has become so well known that in 2015 the Texas legislature ceremonially dubbed him the state’s “Tweeter Laureate,” as The Post’s Lindsey Bever reported.
By the current count, Willett has snapped out some 25,900 tweets since signing on in 2009. Among them are slight digs at Trump, the very Twitter-obsessed man putting him up for his new job.
Willett mostly stays on the sidelines of partisan politics in his feed. The majority of the postings are about his young children and family, daily history lessons, law nerd jokes, and praise for the U.S. Constitution.
He also wields a mean meme, as good as any social-media-addicted millennial screen zombie.
Willett has been reelected to the court twice since he was initially appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2005. Before serving on the bench, he worked as a chief legal adviser to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott when he was the state’s attorney general.
That position followed a stint at the U.S. Justice Department, where the Texas Tribune reported he “supervised numerous cutting-edge civil and criminal justice initiatives, such as expediting U.S. citizenship for active-duty immigrant service members and crafting the landmark PROTECT Act of 2003 to protect children from abduction and exploitation.”
Willett also served in the George W. Bush White House.
Those ties to the mainline Texas GOP — including U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn — meant Willett was not exactly a vocal first rider on the Trump Train, as his Twitter account illustrates.
In 2015, Willett tweeted out a haiku: “Who would the Donald/Name to #SCOTUS? The mind reels./ *weeps — can’t finish tweet*”
A year later, he dinged then-candidate Trump for his boast about forcing the Mexican government to pay for a border wall. Like a true Twitter pro, he used a “Star Wars” meme.
He also targeted Trump’s pandering to evangelicals.
Despite those low-voltage jokes, Willett’s name was included in the Trump campaign’s list of possible U.S. Supreme Court nominees during the presidential campaign, a job that eventually went to Neil M. Gorsuch.
Willett’s courtroom track record appeals to the right. While at the Texas attorney general’s office, he defended a Ten Commandments monument at the state capitol grounds, the Dallas Morning News reported. His legal viewpoint — a strict and narrow adherence to the Constitution — “demonstrates a desire to shred protections under a misinterpretation of ‘liberty’ that is distorted beyond all recognition,” according to one critic.
In 2016, a report by the Center for American Progress found that Willett “voted for corporate defendants more than 70 percent of the time, and was reelected with the support of financial contributions from corporations, oil and gas companies, and corporate law firms,” the Texas Tribune reported.
“The laws we interpret are enacted by a very business-friendly Legislature,” Willett admitted to the Tribune. “My court doesn’t put a finger on the scale to ensure that preferred groups or causes win, but the Legislature certainly does.”
Here’s a sample of his tweets:
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