Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

The Left Tries to Take Down Another Stellar Trump Judicial Nominee

President Trump’s determined transformation of the federal judiciary has elevated some of the brightest under-40 members of the conservative legal movement, from Andy Oldham of the Fifth Circuit to Allison Jones Rushing of the Fourth Circuit, to the federal courts. These judges will be on the bench for a very long time, and the left knows it, which is why the confirmation battles for many of these stellar nominees are so brutal.

So it should come as no surprise that the left has fired up the smear machine yet again after President Trump’s terrific nomination of Kathryn (Kat) Kimball Mizelle to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, using her age as a way to imply that she is not qualified to be a federal judge.

Mizelle is 33, a year older than Joseph Story was when he became a justice of the Supreme Court. Over the last 40 years, several nominees her age and younger were confirmed to district courts: Myron Thompson (age 33) to the Middle District of Alabama under Jimmy Carter; Julia Smith Gibbons (age 33) to the Western District of Tennessee, Ricardo Hinojosa (age 33) to the Southern District of Texas, and Sidney Fitzwater (age 32) under Ronald Reagan. Edith Jones was 35 when Reagan appointed her to the Fifth Circuit, and she has served there with distinction for 35 years and counting.

Not surprisingly given its longstanding partisan bias, the American Bar Association gave Mizelle a “Not Qualified” rating on the eve of her hearing today. The ABA’s rationale was limited to questioning the sufficiency of her experience, even while acknowledging her “keen intellect” and “strong work ethic” and making clear that “[h]er integrity and demeanor are not in question.”

By any reasonable metric, Mizelle has amassed significant legal experience. She served in multiple roles in the Department of Justice, from the Associate Attorney General’s office to the Tax Division, and she was even a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney. Now she is making her mark as a lawyer at a top firm, Jones Day, and in January of this year, she co-taught a course on the religion clauses of the First Amendment with Justice Thomas at her alma mater, the University of Florida. And the range of her experience clerking could not be wider. She has clerked in the Middle District of Florida, as well as the Eleventh Circuit, the D.C. Circuit, and for Justice Thomas on the Supreme Court.

She has argued approximately 40 times in federal district court, including more than a dozen contested hearings, and she has tried two jury trials to verdict. She prosecuted the largest sex-trafficking ring in the Eastern District of Virginia’s history, prosecuted a $10 million tax fraud case in North Carolina, and conducted grand jury investigations in eight federal districts across six different states.

During her nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Blumenthal, with no more ammunition than the ABA letter, questioned her about her experience as trial counsel. They changed the subject after she articulated her experience, particularly as a federal prosecutor. Senator Mike Lee gave her a chance to elaborate on her work examining witnesses, drafting indictments, and authoring well over 50 briefs. He concluded, “This is an exceptionally qualified nominee, and one who not only meets, but exceeds many of the qualifications from nominees of presidents of both parties who I’ve seen come before this committee.” He might have added that her trial experience surpassed that of Obama district court appointees Alison Nathan and Ketanji Jackson, both of whom were given a higher rating by the ABA.

Keep in mind that Mizelle has achieved her standing in the legal world as a young, conservative woman. Unfortunately, that has put a target on her back. As Mark Levin recently lamented about what liberals were preparing to do to Mizelle, “You see, only leftwing women are to be praised. They’re historic. A brilliant, young conservative woman like this is trashed.” It does not fit the media’s narrative that some of President Trump’s best judicial appointments — Amy Coney Barrett, Barbara Lagoa, Lisa Branch, and many others — have been women.

Mizelle’s nomination has broad support. Florida senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott released statements of support the day her nomination was announced (see statements here and here). Jesse Panuccio, the former acting associate attorney general who supervised Mizelle, called the nominee “a trailblazer who has already distinguished herself as one of Florida’s leading legal lights.” Top officials in Florida’s state government, including the state’s attorney general and the leaders of both houses of the Florida legislature, have also praised her nomination.

The left will hide behind any rationale to tear down a Trump nominee, and for Mizelle it appears they have settled on age. But truthfully, the left’s concern is that the president is about to appoint yet another judge who likely will serve for a long time and interpret our Constitution and laws as written. All the better reason for the Senate to confirm her swiftly.


The Latest