Don Willett

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Don Willett
Don Willett (7004180446).jpg
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Assumed office
January 2, 2018
Appointed by Donald Trump
Preceded by Emilio M. Garza
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas
In office
August 24, 2005 – January 2, 2018
Appointed by Rick Perry
Preceded by Priscilla Owen
Succeeded by Jimmy Blacklock
Personal details
Born Donny Ray Willett
(1966-07-16) July 16, 1966 (age 52)
Talty, Texas, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Tiffany Willett
Children 3
Education Baylor University (BBA)
Duke University (MA, JD, LLM)

Donny Ray Willett (born July 16, 1966) is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He was previously appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry to serve as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas on August 24, 2005, when former Justice Priscilla Owen created a vacancy on that court by joining the Fifth Circuit.

Early life and background[edit]

Willett was born and raised in Talty in Kaufman County. His adoptive father died at the age of 40, when Willett was six, and he and his older sister, 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, graduating in 1984. He then became his family's first college graduate.[2]

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 Master of Arts in political science, from Duke University in 1992.

After law school, Willett worked as a clerk for Judge Jerre Stockton Williams at the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He 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 a senior fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Willett has also served as a non-resident fellow with the Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society at the University of Pennsylvania.

In April 1996, Willett 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 United States 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 the development of an executive order to expedite U.S. citizenship for immigrant service members fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He 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 attorney general'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). In addition to giving the attorney general 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.[3]

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 U.S. 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. Willett is a fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, the Austin Bar Foundation, and is a member of the American Law Institute.

Willett was mentioned and quoted in a March 2008 Washington Post column by conservative commentator George F. Will,[4] who favorably discussed 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.

Texas Supreme Court[edit]

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 elections. 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 an 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 described the Smith campaign as "lackluster." The Review wrote that Smith seemed more intent in seeking "revenge for past losses than making a positive impact" on the high court.[5]

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.[6]


Willett authored several notable decisions over the course of his service on the Texas high court, all of which can be found on the Court's official website and on Google Scholar.[7] Some private websites also gather the justices' individual writings, provide brief summaries of them, and include links.

All Texas Supreme Court justices have liaison assignments to help improve different aspects of the civil justice system. Willett was 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.

In May 2016, Willett appeared on presidential candidate Donald Trump's list of potential U. S. Supreme Court justices.[8]

Federal judicial service[edit]

On September 28, 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Willett to an undetermined seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.[9] On October 3, 2017, Willett was officially nominated to serve as a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, succeeding Judge Emilio M. Garza, who took senior status on August 1, 2012.[10][11]

On November 15, 2017, a hearing on his nomination was held before the Senate Judiciary Committee.[12] On December 7, 2017, Willett's nomination was reported out of committee by an 11–9 vote.[13] On December 12, 2017, the Senate agreed to invoke cloture on his nomination by a vote of 50–48.[14] On December 13, 2017 the full United States Senate voted 50–47 in favor of confirmation.[15][16] He received his judicial commission on January 2, 2018, and was sworn in the same day.[17]

Willett was considered a potential Supreme Court nominee for U.S. President Donald Trump.[18][19]


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 and his wife, Tiffany, married in 2000. They have three children. 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.

Willett is known for his active Twitter presence. The Texas House of Representatives named him "Tweeter Laureate."[20]

Electoral history[edit]

Texas Supreme Court – Place 2 Republican Primary, March 7, 2006[21]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Don Willett (incumbent) 280,356 50.55%
Republican Steven Wayne Smith 274,302 49.45%
Majority 6,054 1.10%
Total votes 554,658 100.00%
Texas Supreme Court – Place 2 Election Results, November 7, 2006[22]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Don Willett (incumbent) 2,135,612 51.05% −33.21%
Democratic Bill Moody 1,877,909 44.89% N/A
Libertarian Wade Wilson 169,918 4.06% −9.58%
Majority 257,703 6.16% −62.36%
Total votes 4,183,439 100.00% −8.69%
Republican hold Swing −33.21%
Texas Supreme Court – Place 2 Republican Primary, May 29, 2012[23]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Don Willett (incumbent) 644,807 56.82% +6.27%
Republican Steven Wayne Smith 490,089 43.18% −6.27%
Majority 154,718 13.64% +12.54%
Total votes 1,134,896 100.00% +104.61%
Texas Supreme Court – Place 2 Election Results, November 6, 2012[24]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Don Willett (incumbent) 4,771,916 78.77% +27.72%
Libertarian RS Roberto Koelsch 1,285,794 21.23% +17.17%
Majority 3,486,122 57.54% +51.38%
Total votes 6,057,710 100.00% +44.80%
Republican hold Swing +27.72%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grissom, Brandi. "Justice Don Willett, the boy from Talty, takes Twitter by storm, and maybe SCOTUS, too". Dallas News. 
  2. ^ Severino, Carrie (September 28, 2017). "Who is Justice Don Willett?". National Review. Retrieved December 10, 2017. 
  3. ^ Reprint from Austin American-Statesman Aug. 25, 2005.
  4. ^ Reprint from the Washington Post, George F. Will column of Mar. 27, 2008, p. A17
  5. ^ Marc Cowart, associate editor, Texas Conservative Review, edited and published by Gary M. Polland, Houston, Texas, May 2012, p. 7
  6. ^ "Texas general election returns, November 6, 2012". Texas Secretary of State. Retrieved November 10, 2012. [permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Official website for the Supreme Court of Texas Archived December 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ COLVIN, JILL. "TRUMP UNVEILS LIST OF HIS TOP SUPREME COURT PICKS". Associated Press. Archived from the original on May 19, 2016. Retrieved May 18, 2016. 
  9. ^ " President Donald J. Trump Announces Eighth Wave of Judicial Candidates" White House, September 28, 2017 This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  10. ^ "Presidential Nomination 1077, 115th United States Congress". United States Congress. Retrieved June 30, 2018. 
  11. ^ " Eleven Nominations and One Withdrawal Sent to the Senate Today" White House, October 3, 2017
  12. ^ United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Nominations for November 15, 2017
  13. ^ Results of Executive Business Meeting – December 7, 2017, Senate Judiciary Committee
  14. ^ U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 115th Congress – 1st Session United States Senate Vote Summary: Vote Number 314, United States Senate, December 12, 2017
  15. ^ Quinn, Melissa (December 13, 2017). "Don Willett, who faced questions about A-Rod and bacon during confirmation hearing, confirmed to federal appeals court". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved December 13, 2017. 
  16. ^ U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 115th Congress – 1st Session United States Senate Vote Summary: Vote Number 315, United States Senate, December 13, 2017
  17. ^ Zelinski, Andrea (January 2, 2018). "Willett takes oath for 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved January 13, 2018. 
  18. ^ Cohrs, Rachel (June 27, 2018). "Texas Judge Don Willett is Back Under Consideration to be Trump's Next Supreme Court Pick". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved July 2, 2018. 
  19. ^ Mears, Bill (June 29, 2018). "Tart Texas Talker Gets Serious Consideration as Potential Successor to Supreme Court's Justice Kennedy". Fox News. Retrieved July 2, 2018. 
  20. ^ Benson, Eric (November 17, 2016). "Don Willett's Quiet Revolution". Texas Observer. Retrieved December 22, 2016. 
  21. ^ "Race Summary Report – 2006 Republican Party Primary Election". Office of the Secretary of State of Texas. Government of Texas. Retrieved May 8, 2018. 
  22. ^ "Race Summary Report – 2006 General Election". Office of the Secretary of State of Texas. Government of Texas. Retrieved May 8, 2018. 
  23. ^ "Race Summary Report – 2012 Republican Party Primary Election". Office of the Secretary of State of Texas. Government of Texas. Retrieved May 8, 2018. 
  24. ^ "Race Summary Report – 2012 General Election". Office of the Secretary of State of Texas. Government of Texas. Retrieved May 8, 2018. 

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Priscilla Owen
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas
Succeeded by
Jimmy Blacklock
Preceded by
Emilio M. Garza
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit