Duke alum is on Trump's Supreme Court list

The list, originally released in 2016, is again being used as the basis for Trump to chose retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy's successor

Special to the Chronicle
Special to the Chronicle

One of the possible Supreme Court picks on President Donald Trump’s list of potential nominees has three Duke degrees. 

Don Willett, a judge for the Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Texas, earned his juris doctor and master’s degrees in political science in 1992 and his master's degree in law in 2016—all from Duke University.

His name was included in Trump's original list of possible Supreme Court considerations, released when Trump was still a presidential candidate. With the recently-announced retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy leaving an opportunity for Trump to make his second Supreme Court nomination, Willett’s name has again made waves—Trump said his nominee would come from the same list. 

The White House has not disclosed whom Trump has interviewed so far. 

Kennedy’s retirement will go into effect July 31, and Trump has said that he will announce his pick for the position on Monday, setting the stage for a confirmation battle ahead of this year's midterm elections. 

Trump appointed Willett to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and was confirmed by the Senate in December.

Before he took the federal post, he had served on the Texas Supreme Court since then-Gov. Rick Perry appointed him in 2005. Willett was also a member of the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign and transition team in 2000. 

In a 2016 interview with The Chronicle, Willett characterized his judicial philosophy as taking a “modest” view of the judiciary's role within the Constitution.

“The judiciary is emphatically a legal institution, not a political or cultural one. Judges must act judicially by adjudicating and not politically by legislating,” Willett told the Chronicle. “We need to be impartial referees rather than ideological combatants or indulging personal agendas, either liberal or conservative.”

When asked which Supreme Court justice he most identified with, Willett said that he admired deceased Justice Antonin Scalia’s “gusto and pyrotechnics” and Justice Elena Kagan’s “conversational writing style.”

Willett also commented on the importance of the rule of law to judges.. 

“The paramount quality people should want in a judge is fidelity to the rule of law,” Willett said in the 2016 interview. “The rule of law is indispensable to a healthy, constitutional democracy. The rule of law is not simply what judges decided to do.”

He called Duke a “dynamite” law school, adding that he enjoyed his time there—especially as a fan of the school's basketball team. 

“My time there was actually the mountaintop,” Willett said. “We went to the finals every year I was there, and won two back-to-back titles. It was the era of Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley and it was great to watch players whose jerseys now hang from the Cameron rafters.”

The judge has also made a name for himself on Twitter, a platform on which he has 113,000 followers.

He said in the 2016 interview that he viewed it as of paramount importance for judges to engage with people through social media, saying it is “political malpractice” to not engage smartly in that way.

“The judiciary, despite wielding enormous power, is mysterious to most Americans. People know more about their American Idol judges than their Supreme Court judges,” Willett said. “I use social media, mainly Twitter, to humanize and demystify the judiciary. I’m probably the most avid social media justice in America, which I liken to being the tallest munchkin in Oz.”

His pinned tweet? Basketball, of course.

Bre Bradham

Bre is a senior political science major from South Carolina, and she is the current video editor, special projects editor and recruitment chair for The Chronicle. She is also an associate photography editor and an investigations editor. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief and local and national news department head. 

Twitter: @brebradham

Email: breanna.bradham@duke.edu


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