Fifth Circuit nominee and current Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett faced repeated questioning on his statements about sexual harassment and women’s rights at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Nov. 15.
The statements appeared in a memo he wrote as an adviser to then-Governor George W. Bush, concerning a draft 1998 proclamation to honor the Texas Federation of Business and Professional Women.
President Donald Trump nominated Willett to the vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Sept. 28. Willett also appeared on the short list for U.S. Supreme Court nominees Trump released during the presidential campaign.
Willett’s questioning comes as Congress is considering how to address charges of sexual harassment occurring in Congress.
He was also criticized for a tweet that Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said was denigrating to a transgender teenager.
The Republican-controlled Senate can confirm Willett without any support from Democrats.
Willett wrote that he resisted the proclamation’s “talk of glass ceilings,” and he dismissed concerns about gender pay equity, sexual discrimination and sexual harassment, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said, citing a 2000 story published by the Austin American-Statesman.
Feinstein asked Willett whether he would disavow these statements.
Willett responded that he was acutely aware that women face harassment and discrimination, pointing to his mother as an example.
“I was raised by the most remarkable woman you can fathom,” a “widowed truck stop waitress” who “endured every imaginable workplace indignity,” Willett said.
Feinstein again asked him to disavow the statements, and a long pause ensued before Willett asked her to repeat her question.
Willett responded that he was trying to make the proclamations consistent with the governor’s office’s guidelines, which said proclamations shouldn’t take sides on political issues.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) appeared frustrated with what he described as Willett’s refusal to answer Feinstein’s questions.
Durbin offered Willett “one more chance” to give a “yes or no” answer to Feinstein’s question.
Willett responded that he was trying to ensure that the proclamation didn’t take sides on policy prescriptions, while still trying to reward the accomplishments of talented women.
“Excuse me,” but those who are victims of sexual harassment “are asking all of us to take sides,” Durbin said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) came to Willett’s aid.
It was “quite reasonable” for a policy staffer to point out ideological statements in a proclamation while respecting the contributions of working professional women, Cruz said.
The questioning by Democrats “didn’t present fairly what you said or present it in” its full context, Cruz said.
He was also criticized for a tweet, that said “Go away, A-Rod” in response to a news story about a California law allowing a female transgender teen to join a women’s softball team.
Willett said he was attempting to make a joke about professional baseball player Alex Rodriguez’s suspension.
Franken said he didn’t “entirely” believe Willett.
“I believe it was intended to be hurtful” and to “deride a young woman,” Franken said.
Willett said he valued all people and didn’t intend to denigrate anyone.
Fifth Circuit nominee and former Texas Solicitor James Ho also faced questioning from the committee Nov. 15.
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)