Who Is Don Willett? The Judge's "Right To Marry Bacon" Tweet Is Coming Back To Haunt Him
A Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday focused on bacon and Twitter after Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy asked a federal judicial nominee about a tweet from two years ago. Leahy questioned Don Willett, a Texas Supreme Court judge and a judicial nominee for the Fifth Circuit Court, about what he meant when he compared "a constitutional right to marry bacon" with same-sex marriage.
In 2015, Willett tweeted, "I could support recognizing a constitutional right to marry bacon." Willett shared his tweet with an image of bacon shortly after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country in a landmark decision. While questioning Willet's ability to interpret Supreme Court precedent, Leahy cut right to the chase.
You’ve equated that constitutional right to same-sex marriage, which the Supreme Court has upheld, with a constitutional right to marry bacon. I don’t think one would see that as praising Supreme Court decisions.
Willett defended his tweet by saying it was his attempt to lighten matters up at the time when some Americans strongly opposed marriage equality. "That was the day after the [marriage equality] decision was issued. It was my attempt to inject a bit of levity. The country was filled with rancor and polarization. It was a divisive time in the nation," Willett said.
Leahy seemed unconvinced by Willett's explanation and asked, "And you think that cut back the divisiveness? With a comment like that?" Willett attempted to explain himself and said, "I believe that every American is entitled to equal worth and dignity,” Willett replied. “I never intended to disparage anyone. That’s not where my heart is."
Leahy's incredulity at Willett's explanation may be justified considering the Texas judge's very own record on same-sex marriage. After all, Willett is known for not recognizing gay and lesbian marriages in his own state. In 2015, the judge argued that then-Attorney General Greg Abbott be allowed to intervene in a court decision regarding a lesbian couple seeking divorce in Texas.
Justifying his position, Willett wrote, "In my view, the state’s chief legal officer — sworn to 'preserve, protect, and defend' Texas law — should in fact be permitted to preserve, protect, and defend it." He went to state, "I would allow the attorney general to make his argument that Texas law imposes an absolute jurisdictional constraint and constitutionally prohibits a judge not only from performing a same-sex marriage but also from dissolving one."
Willett, who has a penchant for sharing his views on social media rather frequently, was nominated as a judicial nominee by Donald Trump in September. Taking to Twitter to announce the news, Willett said, "No words. I am honored and humbled by @POTUS's nomination to the 5th Circuit. Thank you, Mr. President—also Senators @JohnCornyn & @TedCruz."
On its surface and without proper awareness of the context of Willett's snarky tweet, the Senate Judiciary Committee and Leahy's questioning may seem comical to some. But on a deeper level, Willett's sense of humor can be interpreted as callous disdain and disrespect for the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Such a brand of "levity" can be a tricky terrain to walk upon and perhaps Willett would do better by practicing more consideration as a judge.
If elected and appointed, Willett would become the United States Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit, which means he could legally preside over cases in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Given the nominee's self-described ideas of humor and "levity" as revealed in the tense Senate hearing with Leahy, it's hard to say whether he will honor the rights of the LGBTQ communities in the South. Only time will tell.