Lakeland native Kathryn Kimball Mizelle headed to lifetime seat on federal court

Youngest Trump nomination for U.S. district judge confirmed by Senate

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle is shown with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for whom she clerked, in this undated photo. Thomas is set to perform the swearing-in ceremony as the newest federal judge on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida for the Lakeland native on Nov. 25 in Washington, D.C.

LAKELAND — According to those who know her, Lakeland native and Lakeland Christian School graduate Kathryn “Kat” Kimball Mizelle has always been goal-oriented, driven and determined. 

“I think she was in the fourth grade when we went to a graduation ceremony at Lakeland Christian and she asked me what a valedictorian was,” her mother, Doreen Kimball, said. “She told me then, ‘Oh, well, I will be valedictorian of my class.'"

And that’s exactly what happened when Kimball graduated from LCS in 2005.  

“That was sort of how her mind works,” said her proud mother. “She’s very analytical about things, she sets her goals and does her best.”

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle

Kimball Mizelle, 33, is set to be sworn in next week as the newest federal judge on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, a lifetime appointment. She is the youngest U.S. district judge nominated by President Donald Trump.

“We’re very proud of her and her accomplishments,” said Mike Sligh, the head of schools at LCS, who added that he's known her “since she was born."

"She’s an incredibly accomplished professional who has had a lot of experience in a brief amount of time that has placed her in good stead for this opportunity. But she’s always been someone who has excelled and someone who is very focused and determined and will serve the country well.”   

Sligh said anything Kimball Mizelle set out to do, “she pursued it wholeheartedly and with great diligence. lt’s pretty much a trademark of her career.” 

Lakeland Christian School 2005 valedictorian Kathryn Kimball gives a thumbs up during the graduation ceremony. She is set to become the next Federal District Court judge following a Senate confirmation vote Wednesday.

At the family house where she grew up, her father Gary, a retired Southeastern University mathematics professor, and her mother, a former marriage and family therapist at Florida Baptist Children's Home until she became a full-time homemaker, are getting ready for their daughter’s swearing-in ceremony on Nov. 25.  

“She's a devout believer in scripture and in God and that just shows in her desire for things to be done right and for justice to always be done for people,” Kimball said in a telephone interview. “She enjoys life and she’s always willing to try new things.” 

At LCS, Kimball Mizelle ran track and cross country, played volleyball and was on the soccer team. Her mother said she still likes to run, including marathons. 

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle graduated at the top of her class in 2012 from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Alex Landback, a Class of 2012 graduate with Kimball Mizelle from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, said she finished at the top of their class, too. 

“I personally can say that Kathryn is a brilliant legal mind and she has the distinction of being the first UF law student to ever be selected as a clerk (to) the U.S. Supreme Court. If you look at the list of clerks, they are typically from Ivy League schools,” said Landback, an assistant general counsel at Florida Polytechnic University. “That is, in itself, an incredible honor and remarkable accomplishment.” 

Four years ago on New Year’s Eve, Kathryn Kimball and Chad Mizelle exchanged vows at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Lakeland, with a reception and New Year’s Eve party held in her parents’ backyard. Mizelle is from Winter Haven, but the pair didn’t meet until they were both working in Washington, D.C. He is the general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security. 

Related:Polk County schools lays out top legislative priorities as newest member is sworn in

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, the youngest U.S. district judge nominated by President Donald Trump, was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday causing some waves in the legal community.

Controversial nomination

Kimball Mizelle’s nomination was put before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 8 and she was confirmed by the full Senate late Wednesday afternoon in a 49-41 vote. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, voted in favor of Kimball Mizelle, while Sen. Rick Scott, R-Naples, did not vote because he is quarantining in Florida after being exposed to COVID-19. A spokesperson said he has had multiple negative tests. 

Kimball Mizelle’s selection to the lifetime appointment as a federal judge has come with some controversy, mainly because she has never tried a case in court as an attorney. She did, however, serve as co-lead counsel in law school on a case as a “certified legal intern” at the State Attorney’s Office, “which means that under the Florida Bar Rules, I was authorized to represent the State of Florida in criminal proceedings in state trial court,” she said in answer to questions from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. 

By all accounts, Kimball Mizelle’s resume is stellar for a 33-year-old lawyer and includes a clerkship with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She is currently an attorney with the Jones Day law firm in Washington, D.C., which is representing the Pennsylvania Republican Party in pending litigation brought by private parties in April and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party in August. In that litigation, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an order extending the statutory deadline to return mail-in ballots established by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. 

According to her biography on The Federalist Society webpage, on which she is listed as a contributor, she has served in the tax division at the Department of Justice, where she prosecuted white collar offenses and led grand jury investigations of multimillion dollar tax shelters and fraudulent schemes. She advised on appeals and trials, developed Department of Justice regulatory reform policy, led DOJ's efforts to defend free speech on college campuses after conservative speakers were either uninvited or booed off campus. And she testified before the Administrative Conference of the United States. She also was a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, “where she prosecuted one of the largest human trafficking cases in that district's history.”  

The Federalist Society was founded in 1982 as “a group of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order. We are committed to the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.” The group of 60,000 lawyers, law students, scholars and others promote “limited, constitutional government; and the rule of law in protecting individual freedom and traditional values.” 

Kimball Mizelle explained to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she joined the Federalist Society in 2012, the same year she graduated from law school and was admitted to the Florida Bar. 

“During law school, I was able to attend events hosted by the Federalist Society and other student organizations where I heard competing viewpoints being debated,” she said in a written statement to the committee. “I joined the Federalist Society upon graduation because I wanted to continue to have the opportunity to grow as a lawyer by being exposed to events where speakers would advocate for opposing views.” 

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle will be sworn in as a U.S. District Court judge next Wednesday at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

American Bar Association: 'Not Qualified'

Because Kimball Mizelle “has not tried a case, civil or criminal, as lead or co-counsel,” the American Bar Association — a non-partisan organization — opposed Kimball Mizelle’s appointment to the federal bench. 

“A substantial majority of the Standing Committee has determined that Ms. Mizelle is ‘Not Qualified'," the organization wrote in a Sept. 8 letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lyndsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and ranking minority member Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California. The ABA continued that “a nominee to the federal bench ordinarily should have at least 12 years’ experience in the practice of law. The nominee was admitted to practice law in Florida on September 27, 2012. This represents a rather marked departure from the 12-year minimum.” 

The ABA did point out that of Kimball Mizelle’s four distinguished federal clerkships, one, a one-year clerkship, was in the trial court.  

“That year, plus her 10 months at a reputable law firm and approximately three years in government practice translates into five years of experience in the trial courts. We have taken into account the nominee’s experience in federal grand jury proceedings, which are non-adversarial and do not take place before a judge. In each instance those proceedings resulted in the defendant’s agreement to a plea of guilty with no trial.” 

Matthew Cimento, a spokesman for the ABA, provided data showing that it has been rare during the Trump administration for the ABA to oppose a nominee.  

“Most presidents (all except G.W. Bush and Trump) have provided the names of nominees to the ABA before making them public, so the numbers were lower,” as the organization helped to vet and weed out unqualified candidates for other presidents, Cimento said. "Ten of the 326 evaluations of Trump nominees have come back 'Not Qualified (3%)'."

The Senate committee submitted written questions to Kimball Mizelle. When asked if there is a minimum amount of courtroom and trial experience a lawyer should have before becoming a federal district judge, she answered that many different experiences could prepare an individual to become an effective district court judge.  

“Trial-level litigation and in-court experience are two of such experiences that could develop the skills and judgment of an individual seeking to become a federal district court judge,” Kimball Mizelle wrote in her answer. “I served as a career federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice ... In those capacities, I frequently argued in federal district court and prosecuted individuals for federal offenses ranging from sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion, to tax evasion and money laundering."

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle's new office will be at the federal courthouse for the Tampa division of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, located at 801 N. Florida Ave. in Tampa.

She told the committee that she has appeared and argued in federal court on behalf of the United States approximately 40 times.

"While at Jones Day, I have represented companies in both high stakes civil litigation as well as significant criminal defense cases, including the defense of two companies in a $3 billion healthcare fraud prosecution," she wrote. "These experiences, along with my service in the Associate Attorney General’s Office and as a law clerk at every level of the federal judiciary, have prepared me to be a fair and effective federal district court judge.” 

Gary and Doreen Kimball, along with their daughter, nurse practitioner Kristina Kimball of Lakeland, will be traveling to Washington, D.C., next week for the swearing in at the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Thomas will perform the ceremony. 

Ledger reporter Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.