Meet the Trump Judge With Two Days of Trial Experience

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Analysis Law and Policy

Meet the Trump Judge With Two Days of Trial Experience

Lisa Needham

The American Bar Association rated Kathryn Kimball Mizelle as “Not Qualified,” saying she “has not tried a case, civil or criminal, as lead or co-counsel.”

While all eyes are on the rushed nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to push through Trump’s equally unqualified lower court candidates. Along with four other nominees, the Senate Judiciary Committee just advanced the nomination of Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, arguably one of Trump’s least accomplished picks.

Mizelle is 33 and only finished law school in 2012. In the eight years since, she hasn’t managed to practice much law. The American Bar Association rated her “Not Qualified,” explaining Mizelle “has not tried a case, civil or criminal, as lead or co-counsel.”

Even when the ABA took into account her non-trial experience, they could only credit Mizelle for five years of experience in the trial courts. The ABA recommends a minimum of 12 years of practice experience for federal judges. The ABA got to five years by adding up her one year of clerking for a federal trial court, her ten months at Jones Day (the conservative law firm that currently houses former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn), and her three years in government practice.

In her Jones Day bio, the firm hypes Mizelle’s government practice experience, saying she “prosecuted white-collar offenses” and “led grand jury investigations of multimillion-dollar tax shelters.”

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About that.

As the ABA explained, federal grand jury proceedings “do not take place before a judge,” so Mizelle didn’t appear in court. At all. And in “each instance those proceedings resulted in the defendant’s agreement to a plea of guilty with no trial.”

Mizelle’s only trial experience came when she was in law school as co-counsel with a law professor supervising her. She participated in two state court trials lasting one day each.

Two days of trial experience, a lifetime on the federal bench as a district court judge for the Middle District of Florida.

Her time at Jones Day doesn’t cover her in glory either. As the Alliance for Justice pointed out, she has only one thing listed under “Experience” in her bio. Her big achievement in the last ten months is filing a brief on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce opposing the AFL-CIO’s request that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) create safety procedures for workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chamber’s position was that OSHA’s current standards were fine, and the pandemic didn’t warrant any additional safety measures.

That flies in the face of all evidence. In just the meatpacking industry, over 48,000 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus. Complaints get filed with OSHA, but they get completely ignored. Participating in the collapse of worker safety is what Mizelle lists as her sole morsel of legal experience at her current firm.

So what did Mizelle do that made her such an attractive judicial candidate? The usual in the Trump era: clerk for conservative judges and justices, join the Federalist Society, and be a conservative Christian.

After her first federal trial court clerkship with James Moody, appointed by Bill Clinton, Mizelle ascended the ladder of conservative clerkships. She next clerked for Judge William Pryor in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor, a George W. Bush appointee, recently made news for affirming Florida’s poll tax on felons.

After her three arduous years of grand jury proceedings and the like, Mizelle went back to clerking, this time for Judge Gregory G. Katsas on the D.C. Circuit who is also Trump appointee and favors capital punishment. And after that? The golden ticket: clerking for Justice Clarence Thomas in the 2018-2019 Court term.

During her first clerkship, she took the time to offer a fawning remembrance of her time at a K-12 evangelical school. She said her work as a clerk is “work that I’m doing unto the Lord and I want to do my best for Him,” and she works “to glorify Christ.”

Like nearly all other Trump picks, Mizelle is a member of the conservative Federalist Society. She called Justice Thomas “the greatest living American.” Her husband, a high-ranking attorney at the Department of Homeland Security, is an ally of noted white supremacist Stephen Miller.

Mizelle is part of the new judicial norm under Trump. It’s one where legal expertise doesn’t matter—only fealty to conservative aims. For that, she’ll be perfect.