Don Willett

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Don Willett
Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas
Assumed office
August 24, 2005
Appointed by Rick Perry
Preceded by Priscilla Owen
Personal details
Born (1966-07-16) July 16, 1966 (age 50)
Talty, Texas, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Tiffany Willett
Children 3
Education Baylor University (BBA)
Duke University (MA, JD)

Don R. Willett (born July 16, 1966) is a Justice on the Supreme Court of Texas. He was appointed by Governor Rick Perry on August 24, 2005, to fill the vacancy created when former Justice Priscilla Owen joined the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Willett was elected on November 7, 2006, and re-elected on November 6, 2012, to a six-year term that ends December 31, 2018.

Background and personal life[edit]

A native Texan, Willett was born and raised in Talty in Kaufman County. His adoptive father died at the age of forty, when Willett was six, and he and his older sister (Donny and Donna) were reared by their mother, Doris, who waited tables to support the family.[1] Neither of Willett’s parents finished high school. Willett attended public schools in Forney in Kaufman County, having graduated in 1984, and then became his family’s first college graduate.

Willett received a triple-major BBA (economics, finance, public administration) from Baylor University in 1988. While at Baylor, he was a member of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce. He received his Juris Doctor with honors, along with an M.A. in political science, from Duke University in 1992.

After law school, Willett clerked for Judge Jerre Stockton Williams at the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Willett then practiced employment and labor law in the Austin office of Haynes and Boone, LLP from 1993-1996. During that time, he also served as senior fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Justice Willett has also served as a non-resident fellow with the Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society (PRRUCS) at the University of Pennsylvania.

In April 1996, he joined then-Governor George W. Bush's administration as Director of Research and Special Projects, advising on various legal and policy issues. In 2000-2001, Willett worked on the Bush-Cheney Presidential Campaign and Transition Team. In the White House, Willett was Special Assistant to the President and Director of Law and Policy for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (WHOFBCI). He drafted the first two executive orders of the Bush presidency, one creating the WHOFBCI and the other creating related offices in five cabinet agencies. In early 2002, Willett was appointed Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he helped coordinate the selection and confirmation of federal judges. He also supervised policy initiatives such as the PROTECT Act of 2003 to combat child abduction and exploitation. Willett also led development of an executive order to expedite U.S. citizenship for immigrant service members fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Willett returned to Texas in early 2003 to become Deputy Texas Attorney General for Legal Counsel in the office of newly elected Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. As the AG’s chief legal counsel, Willett led the agency’s core legal divisions (opinion committee, open records, general counsel, public finance, intergovernmental relations, and litigation technical support). Besides giving the AG legal advice on various issues, Willett also helped with select litigation, including efforts to protect the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds and also the Pledge of Allegiance when it was challenged for including the words “under God.” Willett was serving in this Deputy Attorney General position when he was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court in August 2005.[2]

All Court justices have liaison assignments to help improve different aspects of the civil justice system, and Willett is liaison to the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism, the Task Force to Ensure Judicial Readiness in Times of Emergency, and the Court Reporters Certification Board.

Willett sits on the advisory board for the Honors College at his alma mater, Baylor University, which named Willett a Distinguished Young Alumnus in 2005. He also served on the national steering committee for Baylor’s proposal to secure the Bush Presidential Library. Willett is on the national advisory board for ConSource (The Constitutional Sources Project), a free, online library of Founding-era source material. For Constitution Day 2008, Willett authored a commentary in the Austin American-Statesman highlighting ConSource and its nonprofit educational mission to make these historical documents accessible to teachers, students, academics, lawyers and judges. Justice Willett is a Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, the Austin Bar Foundation, and is a member of the American Law Institute.

Willett is mentioned and quoted in a March 2008 Washington Post column by conservative commentator George F. Will,[3] who favorably discusses a book review Willett wrote in the Fall 2007 issue of the Texas Review of Law and Politics, on whose advisory board Willett sits. Willett is also mentioned favorably in David Kuo's book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction ISBN 0-7432-8712-6 (2006), which criticizes the Bush administration’s pursuit of the president’s faith-based agenda.

Willett and his wife, Tiffany, married in 2000. She served as Litigation Director for a member of the Texas Senate, and in D.C. as Education Director for the White House Fellows. When they left the Bush administration in 2003 to return home to Texas, she worked for Texas CASA, which advocates for abused and neglected children in the court system. The Willetts have three children: Jacob, Shane-David (named after his uncle, Shane Mahaffee, who was killed in Iraq in 2006), and Genevieve. As a youth, Willett rode in rodeos (bulls and bareback horses) and was also a professional drummer.

2006 election[edit]

Willett was one of five incumbent justices on the 2006 ballot, but he was the only one who faced opposition; his four colleagues were unopposed in both the March 7 primary and the November 7 general election. In the March primary, Willett narrowly defeated former Justice Steven Wayne Smith, who sought to regain the seat on the Court that he had lost in the 2004 Republican primary to Justice Paul Green. In the general election, Willett won 51% of the votes and defeated Democratic Party nominee Bill Moody, who got 45% (2.12 million votes to Moody’s 1.87 million).

2012 election[edit]

Willett defeated the intraparty challenge from Steve Smith in the May 29, 2012 Republican primary, but the contest attracted little attention. The publication Texas Conservative Review endorsed Willett and describes the Smith campaign as "lackluster." The Review says that Smith seems intent in seeking "revenge for past losses than making a positive impact" on the high court.[4]

In the general election, Willett received 4,758,725 votes (78.8 percent) to 1,280,900 votes (21.2 percent) for the Libertarian nominee, R. S. Roberto Koelsch.[5]

Judicial career[edit]

Willett has authored several notable decisions since joining the Court in 2005. All opinions can found on the Court's official website,[6] and some private websites also gather the justices' individual writings, provide brief summaries of them, and include links.

In May 2016, Willett appeared on presidential candidate Donald Trump's list of potential Supreme Court justices.[7]


Willett was named Outstanding Young Alumnus of Baylor University in 2005 and inducted into the Forney High School Hall of Honor in 2007. He has received the Faith and Integrity in Legal Services Award and the Austin Under 40 Award for Government and Public Affairs.

Willett received the Texas Review of Law and Politics's 2014 Distinguished Jurist of the Year Award. Each spring, the Texas Review of Law & Politics awards its Distinguished Jurist of the Year award to an individual who has made valuable contributions both to the journal and to conservative causes of national importance.

Personal life[edit]

Willett is married and has three children. He is known for his active Twitter presence. The Texas House of Representatives named him "Tweeter Laureate."[8]


  1. ^ Grissom, Brandi. "Justice Don Willett, the boy from Talty, takes Twitter by storm, and maybe SCOTUS, too". Dallas News. 
  2. ^ Reprint from Austin American-Statesman Aug. 25, 2005.
  3. ^ Reprint from the Washington Post, George F. Will column of Mar. 27, 2008, p. A17
  4. ^ Marc Cowart, associate editor, Texas Conservative Review, edited and published by Gary M. Polland, Houston, Texas, May 2012, p. 7
  5. ^ "Texas general election returns, November 6, 2012". Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved November 10, 2012. 
  6. ^ Official website for the Supreme Court of Texas
  7. ^ COLVIN, JILL. "TRUMP UNVEILS LIST OF HIS TOP SUPREME COURT PICKS". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 19 May 2016. Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  8. ^ Benson, Eric (November 17, 2016). "Don Willett's Quiet Revolution". Texas Observer. Retrieved 22 December 2016. 

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Priscilla Owen
Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court