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Trump taps two Texans — Willett and Ho — for judicial posts

President Donald Trump is nominating two Texans to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett and Dallas attorney James Ho.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, left, and Dallas attorney James Ho.

President Donald Trump on Thursday said he is nominating two Texans to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett and Dallas attorney James Ho. 

"Both of these gentlemen, I think, will do an outstanding job," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said during a conference call with reporters.

They would need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Willett, a well-known Twitter user, has served on the state Supreme Court since 2005. During the 2016 presidential race, Trump had named Willett as a potential choice for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ho is the former solicitor general of Texas. He has also served as chief counsel for Cornyn.

The announcement comes after months of speculation about whom Trump would nominate to the prominent posts — and how long it would take him to make that announcement.

Cornyn told a reporter in June that names for the positions had been submitted to the White House and that he expected an announcement to come “literally any day now.” But the announcement did not come for three more months, a timeline many have attributed to infighting between state leaders.

The Trump administration has been broadly criticized for its relatively slow pace in filling vacancies, and these holes loom especially large in Texas, where many of Trump’s law-and-order priorities, such as drug enforcement and immigration, are particularly pressing. Delayed nominations are most commonly attributed to partisan bickering — during President Barack Obama’s tenure, for example, several prominent vacancies in Texas went unfilled due to resistance from the state’s Republican senators — but reports over the past several months suggest that this time, the lag came from disagreements among Texas Republicans.

Gov. Greg Abbott, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Cornyn all had a dog in the fight, with the governor reportedly pushing for Andy Oldham, his deputy general counsel. Such involvement from a state’s governor is unusual, but Abbott boasts a strong legal background as a former state attorney general and Texas Supreme Court justice. Cruz and Cornyn both have legal experience and serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The nominations are particularly a victory for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who had been pushing for Ho and Willett behind the scenes. Ho had succeeded Cruz as solicitor general.

"I am thrilled to support the nominations of Don Willett and Jim Ho to the Fifth Circuit," Cruz said in a statement. "I have been close friends with them both for decades, and I know them personally to be brilliant lawyers and principled conservatives."

The state’s Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee — a bipartisan group of prominent lawyers who screen candidates and submit recommendations to Cornyn and Cruz, and a body that Ho formerly chaired — finished interviewing candidates in April, members said.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice said that as a matter of longstanding process, nominees do not speak to the media during the confirmation process.

Even after Thursday’s announcements, Trump has a host of vacancies left to fill in Texas. He has yet to fill two U.S. attorney positions, including the post in the Southern District, which is the busiest in the country. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s son Ryan Patrick is rumored to be the president’s choice for that post.

Trump also has six federal district court seats to fill, several of which have been classified as judicial emergencies. One of those seats has been open since 2011.

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