The Brief: Justice Willett Speaks of Tie Votes on High Court

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, one of Donald Trump's potential Supreme Court nominees, has a plethora of experience dealing with an issue that's plagued the nation's highest court of late – the tie vote.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett onstage at the Republican Convention in Dallas on June 15, 2010.

The Big Conversation

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, one of Donald Trump's potential Supreme Court nominees, has a plethora of experience dealing with an issue that's plagued the nation's highest court of late – the tie vote. 

Since Antonin Scalia's death, the court has just eight justices. This means cases can be decided with a tie vote where the ruling from the lower court stands but the Supreme Court doesn't set any precedent.

The San Antonio Express News' Peggy Fikac wrote that Willett — who has also developed a national reputation for his prodigious social media skills — declined to comment on the fact that his name landed on Trump's shortlist, but she pointed to a recent op-ed he wrote for the Wall Street Journal where he discussed the high court's current predicament briefly before veering into how state courts handle potential ties.

Most states have systems in place for addressing the issue, Willett wrote. Texas is the only state where the governor can name a tiebreaking judge – even with prior knowledge of the case being considered. "Noting that other states instead pick substitute judges’ names from a plastic Halloween Jack-o’-Lantern (Louisiana) or a chalice (Washington), Willett offered one possible alternative for Texas," Fikac wrote.

“Before each term, have the Supreme Court collectively name five potential appointees, and if deadlock arises, draw a name randomly from a 10-gallon Stetson,” Willett suggested.

"I asked Willett if his decision to write about this topic for a national publication means that he’s keeping his name out there in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court buzz," Fikac wrote. But Willett said the op-ed was just a condensed version of his master's thesis for an advanced legal study degree he received from Duke University's law school.

Trib Must Reads

Analysis: Texas Pols Still Finding Voices to Back Trump, by Ross Ramsey – Before Texas Republicans can become evangelists for their presidential nominee, they’re going to have to reconcile themselves to Donald Trump.

Sid Miller Says Campaign Finance Probes Going Nowhere, by Terri Langford – Four complaints were filed against Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in 2014 involving his campaign finance reports as a state legislator. One investigation has been closed, and Miller says he expects the other three to be dismissed.

Lawyers Say Ruling Bad For Landowners, by Kiah Collier – Last week, agriculture and landowner groups heralded a Texas Supreme Court ruling favoring a South Plains ranch as a major win for private property rights, but some lawyers and conservationists are painting the decision as more of a win for developers and water marketers.

Paxton Seeks to Silence Ex-Staffer Sharing Trump U Details, by Patrick Svitek – Attorney General Ken Paxton's office is seeking to silence a former official who claims his bosses nixed a lawsuit in 2010 against Trump University.

Civil Rights Groups Ask Appeals Court to Block Judge's Immigration Order, by Julián Aguilar – A coalition of civil and immigrant rights groups on Friday asked an appeals court to stop a federal judge’s order that requires the Obama administration to turn over the confidential information of thousands of undocumented immigrants.

Challenger's Win Over Rep. Wayne Smith Stands After Recount, by Patrick Svitek – After a recount, Briscoe Cain remains the winner in his Republican primary challenge to state Rep. Wayne Smith of Baytown.

Ken Starr Struggles on Question About Rape Allegation (Video), by Matthew Watkins – An awkward TV interview posted this week  by a Waco TV station shows former Baylor University president Ken Starr offering multiple answers to a question about his knowledge of a student's rape allegation.  

Former Texas Official: Abbott Did Not Pull Strings In Trump U Probe, by Jim Malewitz – The former head of the Texas attorney general's consumer protection division says it was he — not then-Attorney General Greg Abbott — who decided how the office should investigate Trump University.

Elsewhere

(Links below lead to outside websites; content might be behind paywall)

Scandal weighs on women at BaylorHouston Chronicle

High-poverty schools earn gold marks for programs that boost academicsHouston Chronicle

Did Darlie Routier kill her kids? Doubts remain 20 years later, The Dallas Morning News

Deaths of nine soldiers rock a town buffeted by tragedySan Antonio Express News

In 2015, Greg Abbott and legislators produced fewest laws since 1995Austin American-Statesman

Freed by court ruling, Texas Medicaid again orders pay cuts for disabled kids’ therapists, The Dallas Morning News

Horse slaughter controversy still ragesSan Antonio Express-News

Austin’s sewage sludge could roll down to Fayette County, Austin American-Statesman

Father’s rape charges spark review of Fort Worth detective’s workFort Worth Star Telegram

Water quest becomes court fightOdessa American

Trinity Railway Express may expand Dallas-Fort Worth serviceFort Worth Star Telegram

Quote to Note

"Story is bogus. A few journalists peddling their agenda rather than getting all the facts tank the profession."

 — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in a tweet referring to allegations from others that he gave Donald Trump special treatment when investigating Trump University

Today in TribTalk

Trump's in charge, but he shouldn't take it for granted, by Tom Pauken – Barring the unforeseen, it appears that most of the Texas delegation will unite in support of Trump at the National Convention in Cleveland. But this has been a year of huge surprises on the national political front, and lightning still can strike. The Trump campaign would be well advised not to take anything for granted, nor propose any major changes in the rules or platform at the convention that might give his opponents an opening at the last minute to push for a contested convention.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 23-25 at the University of Texas at Austin