President Donald Trump has nominated two Texans to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit: Dallas attorney James Ho, who would be the first Asian-American to sit on the appellate court, and the Texas Supreme Court’s “Tweeter Laureate of Texas,” Justice Don Willett.
Ho, currently a partner in the Dallas office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, is a former Texas solicitor general who served as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He is well known in the Texas appellate law world and has argued over 25 cases before the Fifth Circuit and the Texas Supreme Court.
Willett has served on the Texas Supreme Court since 2005 and was named as one of Trump’s potential picks for the U.S. Supreme Court while he campaigned for president. Willett’s frequent and often humorous use of social media earned him the Tweeter Laureate title, and he even made fun of Trump several times in posts last year.
Neither Ho nor Willett immediately returned calls for comment.
However, in an extensive interview with Texas Lawyer, Willett said his tweets about Trump were all in good fun.
“I’ve always considered my jovial tweets on the passing scene to be more observational than political,” Willett said. “Anyone who follows me knows that I’m waggish and jocular, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.”
Ho and Willett were among a group of six conservative lawyers and judges who were vetted by Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz for the two vacant seats on the Fifth Circuit.
“Jim Ho and Justice Willett are two exceptional legal minds who will faithfully interpret the law, not rewrite it,” Cornyn said. “Mr. Ho skillfully defended the state before our nation’s highest court while Justice Willett has distinguished himself as a thoughtful jurist known for his legal writing. I was proud to join Senator Cruz in recommending both candidates and I look forward to building support among my colleagues for their nominations.”
Ho formerly served as chief counsel to Cornyn and is also close with Cruz.
“I am thrilled to support the nominations of Don Willett and Jim Ho to the Fifth Circuit. I have been close friends with them both for decades, and I know them personally to be brilliant lawyers and principled conservatives,” Cruz said.
Ho and Willett’s nominations were well-received by Texas appellate attorneys who believe their appointments will strengthen the Fifth Circuit’s reputation as a conservative court.
“I think it’s safe to say they’re pretty strong conservatives so they’ll add to the conservatism of the Fifth Circuit,” said Dallas appellate attorney Jason Steed. “No disrespect to the other contenders, but I do think those two were the most qualified.”
Dallas appellate lawyer David Coale was pleased with Trump’s picks for the Fifth Circuit.
“They are two class acts all the way and they will be real assets to the court,” Coale said. “If you polled a bunch of lawyers, those would be two names who came up.”
While Ho has no judicial experience, Willett has more than a decade of decisions for senators to weigh during confirmation hearings.
And appellate lawyers believe Willett is certain to be questioned about some of his more controversial decisions, including a 2014 decision that struck down the state’s regulation of eyebrow threading. Some appellate lawyers believe that decision indicates that Willett is wistful for the so-called Lochner era of the U.S. Supreme Court near the turn of the 20th century in which the high court stuck down government regulations in favor of private contract rights.