Kathryn Kimball Mizelle – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle has the distinction of being the youngest federal judicial nominee since Alex Kozinski was tapped to the U.S. Claims Court in 1982.  Despite sterling academic credentials, senators may question if Mizelle, who has spent only four years in practice, has the experience to serve as a federal judge.

Background

Mizelle, born Kathryn Kimball, graduated summa cum laude from Covenant College in 2009 and then from the the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2012, graduating top of her class.[1]  After graduating, Mizelle clerked for Judge James Moody on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida and then for Judge William Pryor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.[2]

After her clerkships, Mizelle joined the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division, while also serving as a year as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia.[3]  In 2017, Mizelle left to serve as Counsel to Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand and then to clerk for Judge Gregory Katsas on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.[4]  She followed it up with a clerkship with Justice Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since 2019, Mizelle has served as an Associate in the Washington D.C. and Miami offices of Jones Day.

History of the Seat

While Mizelle’s nomination has not been formally submitted to the Senate yet, she is expected to be nominated for the seat vacated on July 12, 2020, when Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington moved to senior status.

Legal Experience

Eight years out of law school, Mizelle has spent approximately half her legal career as a law clerk, assisting federal judges on the district, appellate, and supreme court level.  The remaining four years of legal experience Mizelle has includes her time at the Tax Division of the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Assistant Attorney General’s Office, and at Jones Day.  On the course of this time, Mizelle has tried two jury trials to verdict.[5]

Most of this litigation experience is from Mizelle’s year as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney.  For example, during this time, Mizelle was one of the attorneys who handled a drug distribution prosecution.[6]  She was also lead attorney on the prosecution of Dujuan Thomas for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.[7]

Speeches

A member of the Federalist Society, Mizelle spoke on her clerkship with Justice Thomas at the 2020 Florida Chapters Conference of the Society.[8]  In her speech, Mizelle spoke approvingly of Justice Thomas’ jurisprudence and described him as the “greatest living American.”[9]  Mizelle also suggested that descriptions of Justice Thomas as a “bloodthirsty originalist” was complimentary.[10]

More controversially, Mizelle noted, in an offhand comment, that she believed that “paper money” was unconstitutional under the Coinage Power.[11]  This view, popular in fringe conservative circles, is explicitly contravened by the Supreme Court’s decisions in Knox v. Lee[12] and Parker v. Davis, which have affirmed the constitutionality of paper money.

Overall Assessment

Mizelle is undoubtedly very intelligent, with excellent academic credentials.  However, senators may reasonably question whether a 33 year old attorney who has only practiced law for four years has the requisite level of experience to serve in a lifetime appointment on the bench.  Additionally, Mizelle is likely to draw questions about her views on the constitutionality of paper money, and critics may argue that her views are out of the legal mainstream.  Given her youth, relative lack of experience, brief window to confirmation, and controversial statements, Mizelle is likely to have a tough confirmation.  Nonetheless, if Republicans stick together and prioritize the nomination, they may squeeze it through before the end of the year.


[1] Paige Fry, UF Alumna Makes History As First Supreme Court Clerk From Levin, Independent Florida Alligator, Sept. 15, 2016.

[2]See Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, Linkedin Profile, https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-kimball-mizelle-a47196185/ (last visited Sept. 7, 2020).

[3] See id.

[4] Id.

[5] See Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Kathryn Kimball Mizelle: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 17.

[6] See United States v. Major, 198 F. Supp. 3d 558 (E.D. Va. 2016).

[7] See Thomas v. United States, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148492, Criminal Action NO. 1:13-cr-00135 (E.D. Va. Oct. 28, 2015).

[8] Colin Kalmbacher, Trump Nominates Former Clarence Thomas Clerk Who Graduated Law School in 2012 to Lifetime Judgeship, Newstex Blogs, Aug. 12, 2020.

[9] See id. (quoting Kathryn Mizelle).

[10] See id.

[11] See id.

[12] 79 U.S. 457 (1871).

2 Comments

  1. Mizelle’s hearing is scheduled for today (September 9), which suggests Senate Republicans do view her nomination as a priority. With about 16% of Federal Judges at least 80 years old, it might not hurt to have a Judge or two in their early or mid 30s. That’s an impressive string of clerkships, especially for someone who didn’t go to a Top 14 law school, so she must make a good impression. Let’s see how her hearing goes. FDR nominated Alfred P. Murrah to the District Court in Oklahoma at age-32 (confirmed in 17 days!), and he made it to the 10th Circuit in 3 years. Age isn’t everything.

    Like

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