In national spotlight, Texas judge laments civic illiteracy


Highlights

Texas Supreme Court justice is on Donald Trump’s list of 21 potential nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Don Willett calls on schools to address civic illiteracy.

Saying we live in an era of “staggering civic illiteracy,” Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett told a conservative think tank Thursday that schools must provide a far richer education on the rights and duties of U.S. citizens.

Speeches by members of a relatively obscure court typically don’t get much media attention, but Willett’s profile has risen significantly since his name appeared on President-elect Donald Trump’s list of 21 potential nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump recently said he plans to make his pick “within about two weeks” of his Jan. 20 inauguration, and The New York Times has reported that the list has been cut to a half-dozen names for additional scrutiny.

Willett, a Republican on the Texas high court since 2005, said he has had no contact or conversations with Trump or his transition team. “I’m just trying to keep my head down” and focus on the job, he told the American-Statesman, adding that he feels blessed to be part of the nine-member Texas court.

TEXAS POLITICS DELIVERED EVERY DAY: Sign up for our Texas Politics email

“Growing up a doublewide-trailer kid raised by a widowed waitress mom who never finished high school, I never imagined serving on any court, much less the U.S. Supreme Court,” Willett said.

In his lunchtime speech to the Texas Public Policy Foundation gathering in Austin, Willett didn’t discuss the U.S. Supreme Court, focusing instead on what he called an acute crisis of American ignorance in the workings of the Constitution and government.

Saying people who don’t understand government don’t participate in it, Willett cited an August survey showing that only 26 percent of adults could name the three branches of government, while 31 percent couldn’t name a single branch.

The U.S. system of government requires fierce champions, not feeble spectators, yet voter turnout in Texas is the worst in the nation, he said.

“When voters don’t actually vote, then politicians have every incentive to ignore them,” Willett said. “Our government is only going to be as great, as responsive as we demand it to be.”

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Lone Star Politics page brings Capitol news to your Facebook feed

Schools will have to do better, he said. “We have got to get back into the education game,” he said. “Civics is no less a core competency than other subject.”

Willett’s name appeared on the first list of prospective nominees that Trump released in May — a surprising turn, Willett said at the time, because the Trump campaign hadn’t contacted him beforehand.

Ten names were added in September, and Trump promised that his first nominee would come from the combined list that includes nine federal appellate judges and nine state Supreme Court judges.

The exposure dramatically raised the profile of Willett, who had been better known for his active and humorous Twitter feed. Newspaper features followed, and his Twitter followers jumped to 74,000. The Wall Street Journal recently featured “A Week in the Life of Justice Don Willett,” a first-person account from “the tweetingest judge in America.”

The last state Supreme Court justice appointed to the federal high court, however, was William Brennan Jr. in 1956 — 10 years before Willett was born.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Euphoria Fest starts in 2 weeks. Organizers still don’t have a permit.
Euphoria Fest starts in 2 weeks. Organizers still don’t have a permit.

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty on Tuesday took a stern tone with the organizer of the Finding Euphoria music festival, which is coming up in two weeks but still does not have a permit from the county. “Listen man, there’s a real clear road map as to how to get here on this deal,” Daugherty said. “So if this is your...
Texas oil and gas regulator: Science isn’t settled on global warming
Texas oil and gas regulator: Science isn’t settled on global warming

Contrary to widely held conclusions by scientists, a senior official in Texas’ oil and gas regulatory agency said Tuesday “we don’t know whether man-made greenhouse gases are impacting our climate in a harmful way.” Wayne Christian, a Republican elected in 2016 to the state Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas operations...
Police discover Michigan woman living in house with dead man
Police discover Michigan woman living in house with dead man

Police in Michigan discovered the badly decomposed body of a man in his bed, and also found that a woman had been living in the house and had not contacted authorities, WJBK reported. Police in Warren found George Curtis, 68, dead inside his home Monday after family members requested a welfare check. “Relatives came over yesterday wanting...
Homicide victim tried to rob drug buyers before being shot, Austin police say
Homicide victim tried to rob drug buyers before being shot, Austin police say

Two teenagers are in jail and face robbery charges in connection with an East Austin homicide last week. But according to arrest affidavits filed against 17-year-old Alexander Lee Moux Jr. and 18-year-old Jose Luis Vargas-Martinez, police think the homicide victim, 26-year-old Keeven Darrall Cubit, was also involved in the robbery the teens are...
Sheriff: Two men stole $60,000 trailer with tools in Florence
Sheriff: Two men stole $60,000 trailer with tools in Florence

The Williamson County sheriff’s office is looking for two men who stole an equipment trailer with tools worth more than $60,000 from an asphalt plant under construction in Florence on Sunday, according to a tweet from Sheriff Robert Chody late Tuesday morning. The men were in a dark color Dodge truck. Anyone with information is asked to call...
More Stories