Texas Supreme Court Justice Don R. Willett could be the most famous justice on Twitter. With more than 60,000 followers, and a near-constant stream of jokes, trivia, and personal insight, Justice Willett has earned the title of "Tweeter Laureate of Texas."
He's also gained the attention of another Twitter enthusiast, President-elect Donald Trump. The justice was included on Trump's original shortlist of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees and has a fair shot of making it to the High Court in the near future.
Justice Willett, the Social Media Personality
Justice Willett's social media influence doesn't hold up to, say, the Kardashians, but on #lawtwitter, he's a pretty big deal. Don't go to his Twitter feed expecting to find weighty political discussions or ruminations on the law. (They're there, but they're uncommon.) Justice Willett tends to keep his tweets on the lighter side.
Such an elegant creature. Loyal but temperamental. Squawks a lot.-- Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) November 25, 2016
Also pictured: a white cockatoo. pic.twitter.com/WjbMf8nykb
"I think people just find it remarkable that a high court justice would step out from behind the bench and have a persona that's not the traditional, stodgy, fuddy-duddy persona, but actually comes across as authentic and engaging," the justice once told Law360.
When he has dipped his toes into politics, though, it doesn't seem to have cost him. After Justice Willett was named as a potential SCOTUS justice by Trump, Twitter sleuths tracked down a few tweets disparaging the candidate.
The Donald didn't seem to mind, however.
Justice Willett, the Judge and Legal Scholar
Of course, Justice Willett is more than an online personality, he's an important jurist. He's been praised by George Mason University Law professor David Bernstein for rejecting "the Lochner boogeyman" and a recent profile of the justice in the Texas Observer highlighted his unique, conservative approach to judicial activism.
In a series of high-profile opinions over the past half-decade, Willett has mapped out the contours of this position, championing what libertarian attorney Chip Mellor termed "judicial engagement," a more aggressive approach to reviewing (and sometimes declaring unconstitutional) government regulations, particularly those that relate to economic and property rights.
An elected official, his conservative bona fides have earned him the endorsement of conservative groups like Focus on the Family, along with a few more fringe supporters, like the "Christian nationalist" David Barton. He's also gained a reputation as a bit of an interventionist during his time on the Texas bench.
Justice Willett's Syllabus
If you want to really get into Justice Willett's head, you might start where his law clerks do. According to the Observer, the justice regularly assigns new clerks two books written by Justice Scalia and Bryan Garner, "Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts" and "Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges." (Not to brag, but both are available from Thomson Reuters, FindLaw's parent company. So too is Garner's recent treatise on judicial precedent, the first book of its kind in over a century.)
Justice Willett told the Observer that he picked the books because they "methodically examine the bread and butter of modern-day appellate judging -- statutory interpretation." He also admitted liking Justice Scalia's writerly "gusto and occasional pyrotechnics."
That's a style Justice Willett has embraced himself, mixing law with pop culture and the occasional polemic. It could serve him well, too. Donald Trump has said he's looking for a Supreme Court justice straight from the Scalia mold.
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