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Judge who struck down CDC mask mandate was deemed ‘Not Qualified’ by American Bar Association

Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, struck down the CDC mask mandate for transportation on Monday.
(Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, the federal judge who struck down the CDC’s mask mandate for public transportation on Monday, was deemed “Not Qualified” for the position when she was nominated for her role by then-President Trump in 2020.

Following a peer review of her qualifications, the majority of the American Bar Association’s standing committee had found Mizelle’s courtroom experience and accomplishments to be lacking, the ABA wrote in a letter to Senators Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein on Sept. 8, 2020.

More specifically, the ABA’s evaluation of Mizelle noted that she did not have the minimum recommended “12 years’ experience in the practice of law,” having begun her professional career in 2012. Fewer than 12 years of experience does not necessarily disqualify a nominee, the ABA noted, but Mizelle had also “not tried a case, civil or criminal, as lead or co-counsel” prior to her nomination, they wrote.

In the eight years between passing the bar and her nomination, Mizelle had worked as a law clerk for several federal judges, a special-assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia, a counsel to the Office of the Associate Attorney General, a trial attorney for the Department of Justice, and for a year at a private practice in D.C., her biography states.

The ABA said these positions translated into roughly “5 years of experience in the trial courts.”

“In view of the importance of substantial courtroom and trial experience as it relates to professional competence to serve as a lifetime Article III judge, the Standing Committee accordingly has concluded — after a thorough peer review evaluation and careful deliberation — that the nominee presently does not meet the requisite minimum standard of experience necessary to perform the responsibilities required by the high office of a federal trial judge,” the letter read, in part.

The ABA wrote, however, that Mizelle’s resume was nonetheless impressive, and lauded her work ethic and “keen intellect.”

According to the ABA’s judicial ratings guidelines, nominees are not judged on ideology, political affiliation or personal philosophies, but rather their “integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament.” The ABA also does not rate or review judges’ decisions after they have been appointed to a federal role.

Still, only between 1% and 3% of federal judges are deemed “Not Qualified” after an ABA evaluation, as the vast majority have been deemed “Qualified” or even “Well Qualified.”

Mizelle, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, was in the news Monday after she struck the CDC’s mask mandate as unlawful, despite the mandate having recently been extended by the agency through May 3. In her 59-page ruling, she said the decision to enact the requirement exceeded the CDC’s authority.

In the wake of Mizelle’s ruling, many major U.S. airlines have made their own masking requirements optional on domestic flights. Some noted, however, that the mandate would still apply to travelers at airports in municipalities where mask ordinances remain in effect.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the Biden administration still recommends the use of masks on airplanes. The CDC also continues to recommend masking on flights and other forms of mass transportation, despite no longer enforcing the order.


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