Senate confirms Trump’s youngest federal judge to serve in Tampa

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, 33, receives a lifetime appointment to the federal bench eight years after leaving law school.
Washington D.C. attorney Kathryn Kimball Mizelle was nominated by President Trump to become a U.S. district judge in the Middle District of Florida. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate late Wednesday.
Washington D.C. attorney Kathryn Kimball Mizelle was nominated by President Trump to become a U.S. district judge in the Middle District of Florida. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate late Wednesday. [ Jones Day ]
Published Nov. 19, 2020|Updated Nov. 19, 2020

The youngest U.S. district judge nominated by President Donald Trump was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday evening to serve in the Tampa division of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

The nomination of Washington, D.C., attorney Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a 33-year-old Lakeland native, has made waves in the legal community.

The American Bar Association sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September saying that, despite her credentials, Mizelle’s lack of trial experience renders her unqualified to be appointed to the federal judiciary.

Related: With eight years experience, she’s set to be Tampa’s next federal judge

“It’s just unusual to have someone appointed who is that young,” said University of Richmond School of Law professor Carl Tobias, who studies the selection of federal judges. “When the ABA rates people, it likes to see 12 years of practical experience. Of course she doesn’t have that. But she has clerked for a number of well-respected federal judges.”

Mizelle graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2012. She has worked in the Department of Justice and clerked in the Middle District of Florida, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

She has solid conservative credentials, as demonstrated by her confirmation. She was approved along party lines by 49 Republicans and opposed by 41 Democrats in the Senate’s last vote before Thanksgiving break, reported CSPAN.

She is a member of the Federalist Society, the powerful legal network of conservatives and libertarians that advises President Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and top Republicans across the country on judicial and legal nominations.

Mizelle, who is close to Justice Clarence Thomas, has expressed admiration for his legal philosophy and in January taught a course at the University of Florida alongside him. Tobias said the law school faculty there have spoken highly of her.

Her current employer, Jones Day, is the most prominent law firm representing Trump and the Republican Party in their attempts to challenge the election victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

“I am pleased that the Senate confirmed Kat Mizelle to serve as a federal district court judge for the Middle District of Florida,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. “By all accounts, Mizelle is an impressive nominee having served in various legal roles both in the public and private sector.”

Her resume isn’t what gave the American Bar Association pause. It’s that she has taken part in only two trials — each was a one-day trial in state court conducted while she was an intern.

She has never tried a criminal or civil case, even as co-counsel, since being admitted to the Bar eight years ago, according to a Sept. 8 letter written by Randall D. Noel, chairman of the association’s standing committee on the federal judiciary, to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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“Ms. Mizelle has a very keen intellect, a strong work ethic and an impressive resume,” Noel said. “She presents as a delightful person, and she has many friends who support her nomination. Her integrity and demeanor are not in question. These attributes, however, simply do not compensate for the short time she has actually practiced law and her lack of meaningful trial experience.”

Tobias said Mizelle answered that criticism during her confirmation hearing, pointing to the “trial-type” work she has done at the Justice Department and the litigation teams she led for a major law firm.

“I think the criticism was that she hadn’t tried a lot of cases,” the professor said. “But in fairness most cases settle (and) 95 percent of cases settle in the federal system. Today a district judge tries some cases, but not that many.”

She is the 227th Trump nominee confirmed to a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. She is also the eighth rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association to be confirmed during the Trump presidency, according to Bloomberg Law. Tobias said she is the president’s youngest judicial nominee.

There is also the issue of Mizelle being confirmed after the president lost his bid for reelection. Senate Republicans are breaking a 123-year tradition against approving the judicial nominees put forward by a departing president whose party lost the White House, reports Bloomberg Law.

“I think you can defend nomination before and confirmation after,” Tobias said. “As (Senate Majority Leader Mitch) McConnell says — and as much as I hate to agree with him — Trump was elected to serve until January 2021.”