News & Politics

ABC News Seizes on Twitter Dad Jokes to Attack Potential Trump Supreme Court Nominee

ABC News Seizes on Twitter Dad Jokes to Attack Potential Trump Supreme Court Nominee
Don Willett testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on nominations on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Trump derangement syndrome has struck ABC News with a vengeance. On Monday morning, the outlet published an attack (?) on Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Don Willett — one of the judges on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees — for his Twitter account. Specifically, they attacked his bad puns and dad jokes, quoting experts to suggest that social media posts could undermine the “impression of impartiality.”

ABC News’ Adia Robinson began with Willett’s hilarious “Rick roll,” posted on New Year’s Eve. “People of Earth—In 2018, @JusticeWillett will never: give you up, let you down, run around, desert you, make you cry, say goodbye, tell a lie, hurt you,” Willett tweeted.

Commence hand-wringing in three, two, one…

Robinson warned that “the judge’s frequent tweeting last year raises questions for some of judicial impartiality.” Yes, it seems Judge Don Willett is partial … to Rick Astley.

He also seems partial to dad jokes and puppies. Here’s a tweet of three cute puppies that Robinson seems concerned might damage Willett’s impartiality.

Perhaps Willett is also partial to bad dad jokes about Eminem and eminent domain.

Let’s not forget the cornbread in the shape of Texas…

Robinson — crack reporter, here — quoted serious experts about just how damaging these tweets might be to Willett’s appearance of impartiality.

“Legal scholars say there’s no legal provision prohibiting Supreme Court justices from sharing their opinions online or in speeches. The Supreme Court has maintained that the strict code of conduct that applies to lower court judges does not apply to them, but that doesn’t mean that the legal community looks favorably on justices making public comments,” Robinson wrote.

She quoted Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert and law professor at Georgetown University who has criticized the “rise of the celebrity justice.” Turley warned that the problem “has gotten worse every year as justices appear before large audiences and discuss issues relating to cases before the court.”

Robinson also quoted Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University and an expert on judicial conduct and ethics. “Most courts have said be careful in the way that you deal with your online presence because you have a duty to uphold the impression of impartiality,” Geyh said.

Notice what’s going on here. Robinson is suggesting that Willett’s tweets about cute puppies, Texas-shaped cornbread, a “Rick roll,” and dad jokes somehow constitute a serious breach in judicial ethics.

To make this point, she quotes scholars who say that public comments about “issues relating to cases before the court” and comments that would weaken the “impression of impartiality” are breaches of judicial ethics. Interspersed with these quotes throughout the article are Willett’s supposedly offensive tweets — again, of puppies, cornbread, and dad jokes.

Robinson is suggesting that Willett is engaged in wrongdoing while never actually stating it. She is casting a pall over completely innocent tweets, somehow saying these messages disqualify a potential Trump nominee from being eligible for the Supreme Court.

To top it off, she closed the article with a tweet from Geyh: “The way justices have survived the gauntlet is by being as low profile as possible.”

Along with this quote, Robinson made two hugely important admissions. One, “Willett hasn’t tweeted since joining the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals at the beginning of this year.” Two, that Geyh does not think the tweets are a serious impediment to Willett’s potential rise to the Supreme Court.

All this tells me: ABC News has it out for Donald Trump; ABC News is willing to suggest Willett broke judicial ethics over completely innocent tweets; Willett has not broken judicial ethics; and if these are the worst non-“impartial” tweets from Willett, his Twitter account is squeaky clean.

I would like to see all U.S. courts, the Supreme Court especially, maintain the appearance and the substance of impartiality. Judicial ethics are important, and Turley is right to lament the rise of the “celebrity justice.” That said, Willett’s humorous tweets did not involve substantial issues before him as a judge, and that’s the important issue.

Justice Don Willett was not near the top of my list of Kennedy replacements. Thanks to ABC News, he is now.

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