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ABA Says Yet Another Trump Nominee to Federal Bench Is Not Qualified

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05:  Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (L) speaks with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Crossfire Hurricane Investigation" on Capitol Hill on August 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Crossfire Hurricane was an FBI counterintelligence investigation relating to contacts between Russian officials and associates of Donald Trump. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images) Senators Lindsey Graham and Patrick Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on September 11, 2020 10:36 AM

For the tenth time this term, the American Bar Association has given a “not qualified" rating to a Trump administration judicial nominee. According to the ABA, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle's intellect, work ethic, integrity and demeanor are not in question. The lawyer, currently an associate at Jones Day, has an impressive resume, including a clerkship with Justice Clarence Thomas. However, as a 2012 law school graduate, she has only eight years of experience practicing law. The ABA recommends all judicial nominees have at least 12 years of experience before being appointed to the bench.

Further, in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the ABA points out that her work in government and clerkships amounts to five years of trial experience. Considering the appointment is for trial court in Jacksonville, Florida, the ABA did not find that she met minimum qualification requirements. The ABA only offers recommendations to the Senate. Judicial appointees can, and have, been appointed despite a not qualified rating by the ABA.

Mizelle's nomination was the primary topic in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 10.

We Value Your Input, ABA. Please Hold.

President Trump is not the first member of the GOP to disregard ABA ratings. In 2001, President George W. Bush revoked the ABA's special access to the background of nominees. President Trump followed suit in 2017, although then-White House Counsel Don McGahn wrote the ABA to say that he welcomed their input as one voice among many.

More than ABA ratings, GOP judicial nominations are largely based on recommendations by the Federalist Society. (What's that you say? The Federalist Society does not officially endorse judicial nominations? My mistake.) Purely by coincidence, then, prominent Federalist Society members get nominated by GOP administrations. FedSoc has become the de facto ABA for conservative judicial appointments.

The ABA does not advocate a political stance like the Federalist Society does, although Conservatives have long accused the organization of bias. Still, the ABA has given the majority of Trump nominees a qualified or well qualified rating. For example, former Trump administration officials Gregory Katsas and Neomi Rao were both given “well qualified" ratings prior to being nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Are Judicial Nominees Getting Younger, or Am I Just Getting Older?

Mizelle is not the first Trump nominee to be given a not qualified rating based on experience. In fact, some have argued that it is a GOP priority to nominate younger lawyers, particularly in federal appellate courts, in order to maintain control of the judiciary for decades to come.

According to the Brookings Institution, the Trump Administration has focused mostly on appellate courts, and has concentrated most district court nominees on red states. Some democrats, meanwhile, have started to line up their own young candidates for judicial positions.

The judicial nomination process, if you hadn't heard, is officially weaponized.

Related Resources

5 Worst Nomination Fights in SCOTUS History (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court)

Federal Clerkship Counts as Law Practice When Running for AG, Says Kentucky Court (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)

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