Life moves fast these days. It was only Wednesday when Judge Kopf chose as an example of bootlicking the very twitter-popular justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Don Willett. By Thursday, Justice Willett had been nominated to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals by Trump. Coincidence?
Judge Kopf’s issue wasn’t Justice Willett’s brilliance, his integrity, and certainly not his sense of humor.
But Willett’s Twitter stuff is thin gruel. I readily agree he is funny, that he paints an accessible face on the Texas Supreme Court, that he is sometimes heartwarming, and that he is always a loyal homer for his God and our America. But what does Willett contribute to a substantive dialogue between the bench, the bar, and the public when he tweets?
Not much, in my estimation. Even though Judge Willett is brilliant, I surmise that he doesn’t want to defend himself on social media from substantive yet penetrating criticism of his libertarian judicial views. Given his talents, that is a shame.
This, of course, begged the question, whether it’s a good thing for a judge to interact with the bench, bar and public with substantive dialogue. Justice Willett’s twitter popularity was undeniable. Even his twitter bio reflected his wit and folksiness.
Among libertarian academics, Willett was an icon, with his decision on the regulatory requirements to be licensed as an eyebrow threader the stuff of legend. They could not have been more thrilled by the nomination.
But the Texas Supreme Court is peculiar in that its jurisdiction extends only to civil matters. Texas, being Texas, has another “supreme court” to handle criminal matters, and Justice Willett wasn’t on that court. So, in anticipation of his Senate confirmation to the Circuit, which will decide both civil and criminal appeals, I wondered what his more than 25,800 twits would reveal about a judge who, from all appearances, has never decided a criminal case in his career. Would he be more Sam Alito or Wild Bill Douglas? With a libertarian bent, it’s hard to say.
Notably, I’m not the only one taking a look at what Justice Willett has to say on the twitters.
Obviously, he’s quite a popular guy. And let’s be real, judges tend not to enjoy the same level of adoration as a Kardashian, yet 100,000 followers on the twitters suggests that he’s doing something very right.
So I looked at his twits. They were surprisingly witty in many instances, dad jokes and puns notwithstanding. Perhaps the best example is his pinned twit.
To be sure, this is a brilliant twit. Does it reflect anything about a judge? Does it tell us that he’s a deeply religious person, a basketball fan, likes photography or just saw a moment and made the most of it? If it was anyone but a judge, why would anyone care? But he is a judge, and he will be making decisions that will change people’s lives, so it’s hardly unfair to ponder whether this is significant or just one hell of a great twit.
Justice Willett enjoys the adulation of the obsequious lawyers who lack the capacity to distinguish between good judges and bad. They kiss judge butt no matter what so as to bask in the validation of a reply or, god willing, a retwit. But what does Justice Willett get out of it?
After reading through a great many of his twits, I admire the wit, the effort he’s put into his twits to be funny, endearing, and uncontroversial. But I don’t have a clue whether he’ll grant a stay of execution or lock the courthouse doors to prevent a last minute habe.
But then, it’s just twitter. Sure, there are substantive twits, but there are quips as well. And no shortage of monumentally stupid twits. Is it wrong to expect too much of the medium?
At the risk of comparing yet another thing to jazz, Twitter has always been the jazz of the internet. It’s just as much about what you can’t fit as what you can.
Justice Willett is adept at fitting in what he wanted to fit in. Presumably, the absence of any insight into him as a judge was his choice. We know he’s likable. We know he’s witty. We know that he enjoys the validation he receives from sycophants. We just don’t know much about him as a judge. Do I ask too much?