Confirmation Controversy: Willett Twitter, or Won't It?
The Texas Twitter Laureate, and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals nominee, Justice Don Willett, found himself in the hot seat during his Senate confirmation hearing due to his large social media following. However, it was not just the following that drew scrutiny, but also the content of a handful of his past tweets, as well as his future social media plans (if confirmed).
After the nomination, Willett basically signed off Twitter and has only tweeted once since his nomination to the Fifth Circuit bench. The last tweet, just posted last week after a month and a half of Twitter-silence, was a famous Calvin Coolidge quote paired with a rather judicial, yet seemingly stock, image of the Constitution laid out over a U.S. flag: "To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race." While inspirational, it certainly deviates from his past focus of making light of life and the justice system.
There are two tweets which seem to be drawing the most criticism. This one about a transgender student:
And this one about gay marriage:
I could support recognizing a constitutional right to marry bacon. pic.twitter.com/HKPW6tE4H6-- Justice Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) April 30, 2015
Objectively, the meaning of these tweets is terminally vague. But, from a subjective perspective, either can be seen as offensive and pejorative.
In the one about the transgender teen, Willett links to, and quotes the title of, an article that misgenders the youth. This tweet sparked concern that despite his strong social media following, Willett lacks the sensitivity needed for handling transgender legal issues. The other tweet, similarly, shows the same lack of sensitivity towards the issue of same-sex marriage.
During the confirmation hearing, despite the seriousness of the matter, Justice Willett found a moment to crack wise. When asked whether he thought "the wiser course would be to just not do it," referring to tweeting, he responded: "You and my wife have a mindmeld on this."
If confirmed, Willett explained that he would no longer tweet comedy, but rather would focus on civic education. His last tweet with the Coolidge quote is likely an example of what we could expect from a Fifth Circuit Justice Willett.
Editor's Note: After the writing of this post, the Twitter Laureate of Texas seems to have reappeared, and it's not all civic education either. Keep your eyes peeled for future sightings.
- United States Fifth Circuit Cases (FindLaw's Cases & Codes)
- Famous Twitter Judge Nominated to the 5th Circuit (FindLaw's U.S. Fifth Circuit Blog)
- Court Footnotes 'Internet' v. 'internet' Dilemma in Privacy Matter (FindLaw's U.S. Fifth Circuit Blog)