Most people already know about judicial Twitter sensation Don Willett, the Texas Supreme Court justice whom the U.S. Senate confirmed in mid-December for a spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
But here’s a lesser-known voice in the Twittersphere from the Lone Star State’s highest court: Justice Jeffrey Brown’s Camry. That’s right. His Toyota Camry @CamryofJustice.
The 14-year-old car with the Twitter handle “Camry of Justice” has belonged to Brown since he bought it at CarMax in Houston in 2012. Dubbed the “CoJ” for short, the XLE model “with a sweet V6” (according to its Twitter bio) could be the only car owned by a judge on Twitter. Tweeting from the Camry’s perspective since 2014, Brown writes about his journeys across Texas to meet with lawyers, to speak at legal education seminars or to appear at campaign events. The car, which just crested 212,000 miles, is so beloved on #appellatetwitter that lawyers on the road ask Brown about it first thing when they see him, and seem disappointed if he has flown to his destination rather than driven the Camry.
When Brown—who also tweets at @judgejeffbrown—announced on Twitter he was running for reelection, the Camry quipped back “Duh!”
Aside from transportation, it’s got a special place in Brown’s reelection bid, as the inspiration for Brown’s campaign schwag like Camry-shaped cookies and foam hand exercisers. As Brown crisscrosses Texas this year to campaign, it means the Camry’s travel log will grow longer and more frequent.
As Brown sat in the Camry of Justice talking on his cell phone, we asked him about the origin of the Camry’s account, how lawyers react, future plans for Camry tweets and how the account benefits Brown’s career as a judge. Here are his answers, edited for brevity and clarity.
How did you form the idea for making a Twitter profile for your Camry?
It started several years ago while I was on the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. I was posting on social media—Facebook and Twitter—as myself and I was updating my followers on where I was going on campaign stops and court-related trips. I started saying “the Camry of Justice” has arrived at such-and-such place. I thought it might be fun for the Camry to speak for itself.
Appellate lawyers seem to react to the Camry like it’s a minor celebrity, snapping photos and selfies. Why do you think that it’s had this impact?
When I got on the Supreme Court, Justice Willett even snapped a selfie with the Camry in the parking garage and said something about being star-struck about seeing the Camry. I think it may have something to do with appellate law being a kind of nerdy area of the law to begin with and I think we appellate nerds look for fun when we can find it.
The Camry’s following is good for a car but pales in comparison to new Fifth Circuit Judge Don Willett. What’s your strategy to make the Camry the new Twitter star on the Texas Supreme Court?
There’ s no way the Camry could ever catch up with Judge Willett. The last time I checked, he had over 111,000 followers, and the Camry is proud to have just over 400 right now. But I think the more popular tweets are the ones that are almost a snarky alter-ego of myself. Folks seem to like that, so I think keeping up with that tone will serve the Camry well. Also, the Camry and I just need to be better about tweeting more frequently. That’s a big part of it. Willet—I don’t know how many times a day he tweets, but it has to be part of his success. I think the cornier the joke, the farther it goes, and the Camry can certainly tell a corny joke now and then.
On a serious note, what are the ways the Camry’s account benefits your own career as a Texas jurist?
I think that going back to Justice Willet for a moment, he defends his Twitter presence as a way to personalize the judiciary, and do some civics along the way. I think the Camry does that a little bit too. It shows that judges are people too: We have a sense of humor. It does that for me, specifically, which I think helps when I’m campaigning, and helps get my name I.D. I’m sure it only raises it a very tiny fraction, but everything helps.
The Camry’s account seems similar to Willett’s in its sarcasm and humor, but different because Willett has commented on political or newsy topics, unlike the Camry. How do you approach such topics?
The Camry stays out of that even better than I do with my personal account. I think I try to avoid them altogether if I can. You want to be taken seriously, so you want to address serious topics, but judges do have to be careful about opining on issues that may become before the court. You don’t want to show any biases and it can be treacherous. I even had someone ask me recently that they thought the Camry and I both tweet a lot about stopping at Hruska’s between between Austin and Houston. Someone asked me recently: If the court had a case and Hruska’s was involved, would you have to recuse yourself? I thought for a moment, and it’s possible I would. You have to be careful of those kinds of traps also—not just big news items.
Angela Morris is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @AMorrisReports