Long considered by judicial observers a likely pick for a high-profile federal bench, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett was today nominated by President Trump for the federal judiciary.
Willett is one of the most prominent jurists in the nation, both for his sound legal writing and witty use of social media. His legal opinion on the over-reach of the regulatory state inspired syndicated columnist George Will in 2015 to declare Willett a go-to Supreme Court nominee for whoever the next Republican president would be.
Willett is being appointed to one of several vacant seats on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in New Orleans but handles federal appeals from Texas.
His background is the stuff of a made-for-TV political movie. Willett and his sister were raised in a small town by a single mom after their father died. She worked as a waitress and they lived in a double-wide mobile home. The young Don Willett was an aspiring rodeo bull rider.
In a 2012 three-part video interview with Empower Texans, Willett joked that it was his “destiny” to be a judge because his last name “is an ancient Gallic word that means ‘he who never legislates from the bench.’”
After law school, Willett clerked in the 5th Circuit before working in private practice. He worked for Gov. George Bush, and later in the Bush White House and US Department of Justice. He served as the Deputy Texas Attorney General under then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, before then being appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Perry in 2005.
Willett was elected in his own right in 2006 and 2012.
“I know judging, and I know policy making, and I know the difference,” Willett told Empower Texans.
In 2016, Willett’s name was included in a list of 11 judges then-candidate Donald Trump would consider as replacements for Justice Antonin Scalia, who passed away earlier in the year.
Also nominated on Thursday for a separate vacancy on the 5th Circuit was former Texas Solicitor General James Ho, who is in private law practice in Dallas. In the 2014 Republican primary, Ho actively campaigned for liberal State Rep. Dan Branch against conservative Sen. Ken Paxton. Paxton won with 63.6 percent of the vote, forcing Branch out of public life.