Senate Confirms Supreme Court Short-Lister Don Willett to Fifth Circuit Appeals Court

Don Willett testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on nominations on Capito
AP/Carolyn Kaster

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators on Wednesday confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick of Justice Don Willett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, tying the all-time record for federal appeals judges.

Willett is on President Trump’s published list of 25 potential picks for the U.S. Supreme Court. The president’s first selection from that list was Justice Neil Gorsuch, and he has subsequently nominated several other list members who are state supreme court justices to serve as federal appeals judges.

Before his confirmation, Willett served as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court. A graduate of Duke Law School, he began his career as a law clerk to a judge on the Fifth Circuit court he now joins. He later served as a special assistant to the president in the White House under Bush 43, then as Texas deputy attorney general.

Willett is also an Evangelical Christian. Although Evangelicals account for between 15 and 24 percent of the electorate, based on how the term is defined, they are currently underrepresented on the federal appeals courts. Christian conservatives are delighted to see President Trump’s willingness to consider members of their community for the bench, in an era where orthodox Christian beliefs are ridiculed in elite circles.

The Texas jurist’s appointment to the federal bench also showcases the president’s willingness to promote even a critic when the president decides he is the right man for the job.

Willett shares President Trump’s habit of tweeting, poking fun at various individuals and causes, earning the title of “twitter laureate” in the Lone Star State. One of the victims of Willett’s tweets has been the president, albeit when the president was still a private citizen.

Perhaps the most famous of these elbow-ribbing tweets was a Star Wars parody that read, “We’ll rebuild the Death Star. It’ll be amazing, believe me. And the rebels will pay for it.”—Darth Trump.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Willett to the full Senate with a recommendation to confirm. The vote was on a straight 11-9 party-line vote, the same as with the other federal appellate nominees considered by the full body this week, as part of ongoing hyper-partisan obstruction by Democrats of President Trump’s nominees.

The full Senate voted to confirm Willett by a vote of 50-47, with two Republicans and one Democrat absent. Every Democrat present in the narrowly divided 52-48 Senate voted against the nominee, despite Willett’s distinguished judicial career and well-attested character.

“My twelve-year record on the Supreme Court of Texas is one of unflinching devotion to the Rule of Law,” Willett wrote to the Senate in answer to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who ultimately voted against Willett.

“I would like to commend President Trump for nominating Justice Willett to the Fifth Circuit,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), praising Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) for shepherding the nomination through the Senate’s approval process.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said of Willett and another Fifth Circuit nominee, James Ho, that they “are nominees of deep intellect and principle,” having “remarkable academic backgrounds and professional careers” and a demonstrated “commitment to the rule of law and the Constitution.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) agreed, praising both men’s “sharp legal expertise and fidelity to the law throughout their distinguished careers.”

Willett is President Trump’s 11th successful confirmation to the federal appeals courts, tying the all-time record for first-year appointments to the appellate bench. Presidents John Kennedy and Richard Nixon also had 11 appellate appointments during their first years, in 1961 and 1969, respectively.

The Senate on Wednesday also invoked cloture on the nomination of James Ho to the U.S. Court of Appeals to the Fifth Circuit.

The Fifth Circuit has jurisdiction over the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Willett is the first of President Trump’s four nominees to be successfully added to the court.

Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.


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