Today the U.S. Senate confirmed Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, the federal appellate court whose jurisdiction covers federal districts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Willett was confirmed by a vote of 50-47.
Since joining the Texas Supreme Court in 2005, Willett has made a name for himself as a sharp critic of overreaching state government.
In Patel v. Texas Department of Licensing Regulation (2015), for example, Willett skewered state officials for requiring eyebrow threaders to obtain an expensive government license before engaging in the entirely harmless act of threading cotton string through customers' eyebrows to remove old hair and skin.
"This case is fundamentally about the American Dream and the unalienable human right to pursue happiness without curtsying to government on bended knee," he wrote in Patel. "It is about whether government can connive with rent-seeking factions to ration liberty unrestrained, and whether judges must submissively uphold even the most risible encroachments." (Disclosure: Willett's Patel opinion favorably cited my book Overruled).
Willett proved to be equally scornful of the state's civil asset forfeiture regime. When the Texas Supreme Court declined to take up the civil asset forfeiture case Zaher El-Ali v. Texas in 2014, for instance, Willett faulted his colleagues for effectively failing to do their judicial duty. "Does our Constitution have anything to say about a 'presumed guilty' proceeding in which citizens are not arrested or tried, much less convicted, but are nonetheless punished, losing everything they've worked for?" he complained.
Now that Willett has been successfully confirmed to the federal bench, I fully expect that he will bring the same heightened degree of judicial scrutiny to the misdeeds of the federal government.