Skip to main content

Texas Judge on Trump's List of Potential Supreme Court Candidates

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett has made Donald Trump’s 11-person list of judges the real estate mogul would consider appointing to the U.S. Supreme Court if elected president.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, left, at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 20, 2014.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

About a year ago, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett posted a haiku on Twitter:

Who would the Donald/Name to #SCOTUS? The mind/reels. *weeps — can't finish tweet*

Maybe those were tears of joy. 

On Wednesday, presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump included Willett on a list of 11 people whom Trump would consider nominating to the U.S. Supreme Court if he were elected president.

In a press release, Trump cited Willett's experience on the state's top civil court, noting that he was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2005 and then re-elected twice. The release also highlighted his prior work at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation and as a top lawyer in the state Office of Attorney General when now-Gov. Greg Abbott was in charge. 

His tweets went unmentioned.

Trump said the 11 people on his list are "representative of the kind of constitutional principles I value." As president, he said he would "use this list as a guide to nominate our next United States Supreme Court Justices." 

Willett issued a statement Wednesday evening that offered little indication of whether he was open to serving on the court.

"I respect all, and personally know several, of the judges listed," he said. "Being named alongside them for any purpose is a rich honor. They are exceptional jurists, and importantly, over half have served or are serving in the state judiciary, where most American justice is dispensed."

In Texas, Willett is perhaps best known as the justice who tweets. He has posted on Twitter more than 21,000 times since joining in 2009. He often writes about his family, the law and his alma mater, Baylor University. He occasionally chimes in on politics, but more in an observational way than purely political.  

But he has occasionally made exceptions to comment about Trump. His haiku was written when many people considered Trump's campaign more of a publicity stunt than a serious movement. At other times, he has written that he "Can't wait till Trump rips off his face Mission Impossible-style & reveals a laughing Ruth Bader Ginsburg." He has also tweeted jokes about Trump's infamous Trump University and posted a fake quote about Trump wanting to rebuild the "Death Star," saying that the "rebels will pay for it."


Willett most recently made news as the author of last week’s surprise ruling that the state’s system of funding schools, though seriously flawed, meets the requirements of the Texas Constitution.

The opinion highlighted how he prides himself on his writing flourishes. He wrote that “imperfection, however, does not mean imperceptible. Texas’s more than five million children deserve better than serial litigation over an increasingly Daedalean ‘system.’ They deserve transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid. They deserve a revamped, nonsclerotic system fit for the 21st century.”

Willett’s inclusion on the list is sure to please many conservatives. Willett worked as an adviser for George W. Bush's campaigns for governor and president. He has been lauded by Republicans and discussed as an ideal replacement for recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In 2011, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas called Willett “a conservative star of the Texas Supreme Court.”  Washington Post columnist George Will has sung his praises.

On Wednesday, Abbott cheered Willett’s inclusion on the list, saying Willett "would be the kind of justice we need, who would apply the Constitution, not rewrite it."

"The addition of Justice Willett is brilliant," Abbott said.

That kind of excitement may have been exactly what Trump had in mind. Releasing such a list is unusual for presidential candidates, but the candidate said in March that he would produce one to ease concerns that he wasn’t conservative enough. In addition to being a list of judges people “totally admire,” Trump said that month that his candidates would also be “great conservative judges, great intellects, the people that you want," according to the Associated Press.

Willett was the only Texan on the list. The other 10 included six federal judges — Steven Colloton of Iowa; Raymond Gruender of Missouri; Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania; William Pryor Jr. of Alabama, Diane Sykes of Wisconsin; and Raymond Kethledge of Michigan — and four other state Supreme Court justices —Allison Eid of Colorado; Joan Larsen of Michigan; Thomas Lee of Utah; and David Stras of Minnesota. 

Soon after Trump’s announcement, Willett showed up at a previously scheduled signing in Austin for Abbott’s new book. When approached by reporters, he seemed speechless and stunned. After being asked for comment, he joked, “I’m exercising judicial restraint.”

He hasn’t tweeted since.

Additional reporting by Patrick Svitek and Ross Ramsey. 

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Texans need truth. Help us report it.

Support independent Texas news

Become a member. Join today.

Donate now

Explore related story topics

Courts Criminal justice Texas Supreme Court