The federal government’s public transportation mask mandate was thrown out by a Trump appointee considered unqualified for the job by the American Bar Association but immediately hailed as a hero in conservative circles.
Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who was born in 1987, is among the youngest federal judges. She clerked for four federal judges, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and had worked in several roles at the Justice Department and as an associate at Jones Day before President Donald Trump nominated her for a seat in the Middle District of Florida in 2020.
The ABA panel that reviews judicial nominees gave Mizelle a “Not Qualified” rating for what it said was a lack of experience. The ABA typically looks for a minimum of 12 years experience to rate a nominee qualified and Mizelle was eight years out of the University of Florida’s law school at the time of her nomination.
Mizelle was ultimately confirmed by a 49-41 party-line vote, winning support from only Republican senators, who praised Mizelle for her ruling Monday striking down the mandate requiring masks on airplanes, trains, and other public transportation. Mizelle vacated the mask requirement nationwide.
“Almost two years ago I enthusiastically pushed Judge Mizelle to be a district court judge,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a tweet Monday. “Today she issued a common sense decision that makes me especially proud that I did.”
Georgia State University law professor Anthony Michael Kreis said “Neither Judge Mizelle’s ABA rating nor her age are the issue with respect to her terrible opinion.”
“The problem is that 51+ senators thought she was qualified and now she will rule over us for 30, 40, or 50 years with bad opinions,” Kreis tweeted Tuesday.
In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leadership at the time of her 2020 nomination, the ABA noted Mizelle’s admission to the Florida bar in 2012 represented “a rather marked departure from the 12 year minimum.”
The ABA also noted that its rating wasn’t a reflection of Mizelle’s character, saying she had “a very keen intellect, a strong work ethic and an impressive resume.”
Prior to joining Jones Day in 2019, Mizelle clerked for Thomas and Judge Gregory Katsas of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She had earlier worked in the Justice Department as a counsel to the associate attorney general, an attorney in the Tax Division, and a special assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia.
She also clerked for Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and James S. Moody Jr. in the Middle District of Florida, where she now serves as a judge.
Eric Segall, a professor at Georgia State University who is critical of the conservative judicial philosophies of originalism and textualism, said Mizelle’s decision reflects the ideas of the prominent conservative judges she clerked for, like Thomas and Pryor.
“She is a product of that culture, that Federalist Society, Pryor-Thomas pipeline, and it is a very dangerous pipeline,” Segall said.
Christopher Mills, who clerked for Thomas during the same term as Mizelle, called the ABA’s rating “biased” and said her “decision shows she understands and cares deeply about the rule of law, a central promise of our system of government.”
“Judge Mizelle is brilliant, conscientious, and thorough, and that’s what her decision yesterday shows,” Mills, founder of Spero Law, said in an emailed statement.