Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Who is Justice Don Willett?

Justice Don Willett is President Trump’s nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals from Texas.

Age: 51

Current Position: Justice, Supreme Court of Texas (Austin, TX)

Education:

  • B.A., Baylor University (1988), triple major (economics, finance, business administration); member of the Baylor Chamber of Commerce

  • M.A. (Political Science), Duke University (1992)

  • J.D., Duke University School of Law (1992), with honors

  • L.L.M. (Judicial Studies), Duke University School of Law (2016) 

Judicial Clerkships: Judge Jerre S. Williams, U.S. Court Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (1992-1993).

Experience:

  • 1993-1996: Associate, Hayes and Boone LLP (Austin, TX)

  • 1996-2000: Director of Research and Special Projects, Office of Governor George W. Bush (Austin, TX)

  • 2000-2001: Bush-Cheney Presidential Campaign and Transition Team

  • 2001-2002: Special Assistant to the President; Director of Law and Policy for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (Washington, D.C.)

  • 2002-2003: Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Policy, U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.)

  • 2003-2005: Deputy Texas Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of Texas (Austin, TX)

  • 2005-present: Justice, Supreme Court of Texas (Austin, TX)

Notable Matters:

  • Governor Rick Perry appointed Justice Willett to the Texas Supreme Court in 2005. He was subsequently reelected to six-year terms in 2006 and 2012.

  • As Deputy Texas Attorney General, Justice Willett was involved in several of the state’s litigation matters, including defending the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.

  • In 2015, Justice Willett wrote a concurring opinion in Patel v. Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation, which struck down a Texas state licensing scheme requiring eyebrow threaders to obtain cosmetology licenses necessitating 750 hours of training before they could legally work. Evidence showed that the overwhelming majority of these hours were not related to eyebrow threading. In concurrence Justice Willett wrote, “Threaders with no license are less menacing than government with unlimited license.”

Professional Associations: Justice Willett is an elected member of the American Law Institute. He serves on the board of numerous non-profit associations, including the National Fatherhood Initiative, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Central Texas, and the Texas Review of Law and Politics. Justice Willett is listed as an expert for The Federalist Society, for whom he has written and spoken about regulatory and appellate law.

Awards: Jurist of the Year (Texas Review of Law and Politics); Outstanding Young Alumnus of Baylor University; the Price Daniel Distinguished Public Service Award (Baylor University); the Faith and Integrity in Legal Services Award; the Pro Texana Medal of Service; the Austin Under 40 Award for Government and Public Affairs.

Biographical Notes: Justice Willett is a Texas native and grew up in Kaufman County. He is the adopted son of parents who did not graduate from high school, and is the first college graduate in his family. Justice Willett is married and has three children. He is a former rodeo bull rider.

 

Carrie Severino — Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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