The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance the lifetime federal judgeship nomination of Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who earned an embarrassing “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.
Every Republican member of the committee voted to send Mizelle’s nomination to the full Senate to be confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. She got no support from Democrats, in part because they all boycotted the hearing over another of President Donald Trump’s court picks scheduled for a vote ― Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Mizelle, 33, earned the ABA’s not qualified rating because of her lack of experience. She doesn’t meet the ABA’s requirement that a nominee to a lifetime federal judgeship have at least 12 years of experience practicing law. Mizelle has only been practicing law since 2012, which the ABA notes is “a rather marked departure” from its standard.
She has also never tried a case ― civil or criminal ― as lead attorney or co-counsel.
“She presents as a delightful person and she has many friends who support her nomination. Her integrity and demeanor are not in question,” the ABA’s evaluation concludes. “These attributes however simply do not compensate for the short time she has actually practiced law and her lack of meaningful trial experience.”
During her confirmation hearing in September, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Mizelle to respond to the ABA’s rating. Mizelle talked up her brief stints as counsel to the associate U.S. attorney general from 2017 to 2018, and as a trial attorney in the Tax Division at the Justice Department. Since 2019, she has been an associate at Jones Day, which has been dubbed Trump’s “favorite law firm” because of all the attorneys he’s hired from there into his administration.
“I think it’s my experience as a career federal prosecutor that does make me equipped to do this job effectively,” Mizelle said. “I have handled a wide variety of hearings as lead counsel on behalf of the United States. I’ve argued those to federal judges at the same kinds of hearings I would be responsible for presiding over. ... I think that’s really what gives me the core experience to be able to effectively manage a courtroom.”
Trump has put forward an unusually high number of judicial nominees who have been rated not qualified by the ABA. None of President Barack Obama’s court picks in eight years were given the abysmal rating. Six of President George W. Bush’s nominees earned the rating in his two terms. Ten of Trump’s nominees have been rated not qualified in just four years.
Mizelle’s nomination now heads to the Senate floor, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made judicial nominations his top priority. Mizelle is all but certain to be confirmed.
Notably, Mizelle is a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that has been driving Trump’s judicial selection process. All three of Trump’s Supreme Court picks are Federalist Society members. Nearly all of his 53 appeals court picks are Federalist Society members. Mizelle’s clerkships out of law school were with prominent Federalist Society members, too: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Gregory Katsas and U.S. Appeals Court Judge William Pryor.
There’s a common thread to Trump’s court picks who are Federalist Society members: They tend to have records of being hostile to abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, voting rights and the Affordable Care Act.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 220 national human and civil rights groups, announced its opposition to Mizelle last month, citing her “stunning lack of experience” and her involvement in civil rights rollbacks at Trump’s Justice Department.
During her time at the department, she supervised litigation for the Civil Rights Division and Civil Division, which, among other things, filed a Supreme Court brief arguing that businesses have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ customers and dropped the government’s longstanding position that a Texas voter ID law under legal challenge was intentionally racially discriminatory.
“This nominee has been put forward not only because she is an ultraconservative ideologue, but also because she is a Trump loyalist, having worked in the Trump Justice Department to dismantle many critical civil rights protections,” the Leadership Conference wrote in a letter to senators. “The Senate must reject her nomination.”