Abner J. Mikva

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Abner J. Mikva
Abner Mikva.jpg
White House Counsel
In office
President Bill Clinton
Preceded by Lloyd Cutler
Succeeded by Jack Quinn
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
In office
Preceded by Patricia Wald
Succeeded by Harry Edwards
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
In office
September 26, 1979 – September 19, 1994
Appointed by Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by Merrick Garland
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 10th district
In office
January 3, 1975 – September 26, 1979
Preceded by Samuel Young
Succeeded by John Porter
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1969 – January 3, 1973
Preceded by Barratt O'Hara
Succeeded by Morgan Murphy
Personal details
Born Abner Joseph Mikva
(1926-01-21) January 21, 1926 (age 95)
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Zoe Mikva
Alma mater University of Chicago

Abner Joseph Mikva (born January 21, 1926) is a Democratic former U.S. Representative, federal judge and law professor from Chicago.

Life and career

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mikva attended the University of Chicago Law School, from which he received his J.D. in 1951. After graduation, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton, but his early interest in Chicago clearly was politics:

One of the stories that is told about my start in politics is that on the way home from law school one night in 1948, I stopped by the ward headquarters in the ward where I lived. There was a street-front, and the name Timothy O'Sullivan, Ward Committeeman, was painted on the front window. I walked in and I said "I'd like to volunteer to work for [Adlai] Stevenson and [Paul] Douglas." This quintessential Chicago ward committeeman took the cigar out of his mouth and glared at me and said, "Who sent you?" I said, "Nobody sent me." He put the cigar back in his mouth and he said, "We don't want nobody that nobody sent." This was the beginning of my political career in Chicago.[1]

He spent ten years in the Illinois House of Representatives[2] before serving in the U.S. Congress from 1969 to 1973 and 1975 to 1979. He first represented Illinois' 2nd District, which included the South Side's lakefront wards including Hyde Park, his residence and also home to the University of Chicago. Both parties attempted to redistrict Mikva out of Congress; redistricting for the 1972 elections put Hyde Park in the 1st District for the first time since 1903, which would have pitted Mikva against Democratic incumbent Ralph Metcalfe in a district with nearly a 90% black population; moving in order to stay in the 2nd District would have matched him against Democratic incumbent Morgan F. Murphy, who had previously represented the 3rd District. Mikva instead moved to the North Shore's 10th District and, after being defeated by Republican Samuel H. Young, successfully ran in 1974 as an Independent Democrat – his status enhanced in this predominantly Republican, suburban district because he was viewed as critical of the Chicago Democratic establishment. In 1978, he was narrowly reelected against Republican John Porter in what was one of the most expensive congressional races to that time.

On May 29, 1979, Mikva was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Despite opposition from anti-gun control interests, Mikva was confirmed by a 58-31 vote of the United States Senate on September 25, 1979.[3] He subsequently resigned his congressional seat (Porter succeeded Mikva after a special election). Mikva served on the D.C. Circuit from 1979 until his retirement in 1994 to become White House Counsel to President Bill Clinton.

In 1992, while serving as Chief Judge on the D.C. Circuit, Mikva appeared in the Kevin Kline comedy Dave as "Supreme Court Justice Abner J. Mikva," in a scene in which he administers the presidential oath of office to the Vice President (played by Ben Kingsley).

Mikva taught law at Northwestern University and was White House Counsel from 1994-95. He returned to the University of Chicago Law School, serving as the Schwarz Lecturer and the senior director of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.

Mikva was co-chairman of the Constitution Project's bipartisan Constitutional Amendments Committee.

In 1998, he received the Chicago History Museum "Making History Award" for Distinction in Public Service.

In November 2004, Mikva was an international election monitor of Ukraine's contested presidential election, and in July 2006 he was named chair of the Illinois Human Rights Commission by Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

He is a long-time political supporter of President Barack Obama. Mikva offered Obama a law clerk position in his judicial office after Obama graduated from Harvard Law School; Obama declined the offer. US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan was one of his law clerks.[4] Mikva became Obama's political advisor and suggested he learn more effective public speaking from observing preachers. Mikva said of Obama: "He listened to patterns of speech, how to take people up the ladders. It's almost a Baptist tradition to make someone faint, and, by God, he's doing it now."[4]

Abner Mikva and his wife Zoe started a civic leadership program for Chicago youth in 1997 called Mikva Challenge. This organization works with over 5,000 youth a year getting them involved in experiential activities in the democratic process working as election judges, volunteering on campaigns, advising city officials, and creating local activism projects to improve their schools and communities.

Judge Mikva was selected by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to lead a commission investigating the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign for admitting applicants (many of whom were not very well qualified) whose relatives or backers had connections to and had donated money to Illinois state lawmakers, including Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael Madigan- who chairs the state's Democratic Party.

His accumulated papers are at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, Ill. Papers, 1959-1996. 183 linear ft.; finding aid; restricted; collection contains Mikva’s congressional and judicial papers.[5]

He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on November 24, 2014.[6]


  1. Abner Mikva Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, April 12, 1999.
  2. "University of Chicago Law School: Abner Mikva". University of Chicago Law School. Archived from the original on 13 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-24. He started his political career in 1956 in the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served five consecutive terms. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Dissenting Opinion," a profile of Abner Mikva, University of Chicago Magazine, August 1996
  4. 4.0 4.1 Powell, Michael (4 June 2008). "Barack Obama: Calm in the Swirl of History". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Finding aid, Federal Judicial Center, Adam Mikva.
  6. "President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom". The White House. Retrieved 25 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Barratt O'Hara
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Morgan Murphy
Preceded by
Samuel Young
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by
John Porter
Legal offices
New seat Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Succeeded by
Merrick Garland
Preceded by
Patricia Wald
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Succeeded by
Harry Edwards
Preceded by
Lloyd Cutler
White House Counsel
Succeeded by
Jack Quinn