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Senate Confirms Trump Nominee, 33, to Lifetime Judgeship Despite ‘Not Qualified’ Rating and Dearth of Trial Experience

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his Republican majority confirmed Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, 33, on Wednesday to a lifetime judgeship on U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

The vote was 49-41 in favor.

Mizelle becomes the youngest Trump-appointed judge yet. Many have noted that Mizelle graduated from law school eight years ago. The American Bar Association previously deemed Mizelle, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, “Not Qualified” for a federal judgeship.

Mizelle, an associate at Jones Day, previously completed four judicial clerkships (including for Justice Thomas) and served in a number of roles with the U.S. Department of Justice, including in the Eastern District of Virginia from 2014 to 2015.

The ABA rating system for judicial nominees focuses “strictly” on a candidate’s professional qualifications for the role such as “professional competence, integrity and judicial temperament,” returning one of three possible outcomes: Well Qualified, Qualified, or Not Qualified.

Chair of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary Randall D. Noel wrote in September that Mizelle, who graduated law school in 2012, represented a “rather marked departure” from the committee’s standard Backgrounder criteria, which provides that “a nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least 12 years’ experience in the practice of law.”

The committee did concede that lacking such experience could be offset by “the breadth and depth” of a nominee’s legal experience, such as “substantial trial or courtroom experience and/or compensating accomplishments in the field of law.” But the committee said Mizelle had “not tried a case, civil or criminal, as lead or co-counsel.”

“In view of the importance of substantial courtroom and trial experience as it relates to professional competence to serve as a lifetime Article III judge, the Standing Committee accordingly has concluded – after a thorough peer review evaluation and careful deliberation – that the nominee presently does not meet the requisite minimum standard of experience necessary to perform the responsibilities required by the high office of a federal trial judge,” the letter stated.

This criticism emerged again on Wednesday.

Mizelle’s bio at Jones Day says a couple of things about trial-related experience:

As a former federal prosecutor, she has significant argument experience in federal district court and has conducted jury trials in state court. She has also filed briefs in the Fifth, Sixth, and D.C. Circuits and advised on numerous appeals on behalf of the federal government.

[…]

In addition, Kat served as counsel to the Associate Attorney General. In that role, she oversaw the Tax Division, advised on appeals and trials, developed DOJ-wide regulatory reform policy, led DOJ’s efforts to defend free speech on college campuses, and testified before the Administrative Conference of the United States.

The ABA committee said that its decision was in no way meant to impugn Mizelle’s intellect, work ethic, or resume, but said these were not enough to counterbalance her lack of experience.

“She presents as a delightful person and she has many friends who support her nomination. Her integrity and demeanor are not in question,” the letter said. “These attributes however simply do not compensate for the short time she has actually practiced law and her lack of meaningful trial experience.”

Other Trump nominees to be rated “Not Qualified” by the ABA include Justin Walker (though that changed later), Sarah Pitlyk, and, controversially, Lawrence VanDyke.

Assistant Attorney General Beth A. Williams, for one, has argued that Trump judicial appointments “are among the most qualified in history.” She said that even a biased ABA (“Peer-reviewed studies have shown the ABA evaluates nominees of Republican presidents more harshly than those of Democratic presidents…”) believes this.

“So it is all the more extraordinary that President Trump’s judicial appointments have earned the ABA’s ‘Well Qualified’ rating at nearly the highest rate in five decades,” Williams wrote.

Liberal groups opposed Mizelle’s confirmation, calling her stunningly inexperienced and extreme in ideology.

Mizelle’s husband is Chad Mizelle, who currently works in the Trump administration in a senior legal role. Critics said at the time of his hire that the General Counsel for the Department of Homeland Security position should be filled by someone with much more experience.

Read the full letter from the ABA below:

ABA Rating Letter to Graham and Feinstein Re Nomination of Kathryn Kimball Mizelle by Law&Crime on Scribd

Jerry Lambe contributed to this report.

[image via Jones Day/YouTube screengrab]

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Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.