Supreme Stalemates


Judge Don Willett

Date of Event



Event Description

The U.S. Supreme Court is famously tie-breaker free. When the Court is shorthanded and locks up 4–4, it issues a dry, one-sentence order: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

Most American justice, though, is dispensed in state judiciaries. How do unsatisfying SCOTUS stalemates compare with what happens in state high courts? How do the laboratories of democracy deal with deadlock? Turns out, a supermajority of states—33—reject the SCOTUS “ties happen” approach, using various substitute-justice mechanisms to avert or break legal logjams.

Judge Willett will survey impasse resolution in state supreme courts and evaluate the good, bad, and in-between of the sundry approaches. This much is certain: Supreme stalemate is a vexing issue, and some state mechanisms to avert or break ties are plainly more juris-imprudent than others.

The Sumner Canary Memorial lecture was established to honor the memory of the late Judge Sumner Canary, a pillar of the Cleveland legal community. Judge Canary served on the Ohio Court of Appeals for the Eighth District and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. In addition to his public service, Judge Canary was a partner at the firms of Canary & Walsh and Arter & Hadden.

This lectureship, which was made possible due to the generosity of Judge Canary’s widow, Nancy Canary, has featured numerous federal judges, scholars, academics and six U.S. Supreme Court Justices.

Please review these reading materials in advance of the event.

Speaker Biography

Judge Don Willett serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Before joining the federal judiciary, Judge Willett served a dozen years on the Supreme Court of Texas. He has devoted his professional life to public service, and prior to becoming a judge, he served as legal
counsel to a Texas Attorney General, a Texas Governor, a U.S. Attorney General, and the President of the United States.

Judge Willett was raised by a widowed mom in a doublewide trailer in a town of 32 people. He is his family’s first college graduate, earning a triple-major BBA from Baylor University and then three degrees from Duke University: JD with honors, AM in political science, and LLM in Judicial Studies.

After law school, he clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and then practiced law at Haynes and Boone, LLP before entering public service.

Judge Willett publishes widely and speaks frequently throughout the country. He is a Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke University School of Law and serves on the Board of Visitors there. He also serves on the Board of Regents at Baylor University and is the upcoming Jurist in Residence at Brigham Young University. Judge Willett chairs the editorial board of Judicature – The Scholarly Journal for Judges, which he previously served as editor in chief, and he has been honored six times for “exemplary legal writing” by The Green Bag. He is a member of the American Law Institute, a Life Fellow of the American, Texas, and Austin Bar Foundations, and has a long history of nonprofit board service on the local, state, and national levels. His numerous honors include Distinguished Alumnus of Baylor University, Outstanding Young Alumnus of Baylor, the Distinguished Jurist of the Year Award, the Distinguished Public Service Award, the Faith and Integrity in Legal Services Award, the Pro Texana Medal of Service, and many more.

A native Texan, Judge Willett is a former rodeo bull rider and professional drummer, and in 2015 he was named the Tweeter Laureate of Texas. He is the namesake for Don R. Willett Elementary School, which will open in 2022 barely a mile from where he grew up.

Judge Willett and Tiffany, his radiant wife of 20 years, are the exhausted co-founders of three wee Willetts.

Lecture Series

Sumner Canary Lecture

Subject Headings

Supreme Court; Supreme Court stalemates; Supreme Court jurisprudence


CWRU School of Law, A59, Mootcourt Room

Document Type