Article from Reason by Damon Root.

Don Willett first rose to fame in conservative legal circles as a Texas Supreme Court justice with a penchant for penning spirited constitutional defenses of economic liberty. Since joining the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit late last year, Willett has been making a name for himself in another significant area of the law: criminal justice reform.

Indeed, in the past three months alone, Willett has written three different opinions that are likely to please civil libertarians of every stripe.

First, in August, Willett took aim at the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial doctrine of qualified immunity, which shields police officers and other government officials from being sued over violations of constitutional rights. “To some observers, qualified immunity smacks of unqualified impunity, letting public officials duck consequences for bad behavior,” Willett wrote in Zadeh v. Robinson. “I add my voice to a growing, cross-ideological chorus of jurists and scholars urging recalibration of contemporary immunity jurisprudence.”

Second, in October, Willett wrote a unanimous 5th Circuit ruling that voided three “special conditions” for supervised release imposed upon a criminal defendant at sentencing. The problem here was that the district court failed to “orally enumerate each condition,” thus preventing the defendant from having a “meaningful opportunity to object” at his sentencing, and thereby running afoul of both due process and the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. As Willett explained in United States v. Rivas-Estrada, “the ‘opportunity to object’ requirement isn’t formalistic. It’s practical…. The point is to give fair notice.”

Read the entire article at Reason.

Image Credit: By St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons