Abner Joseph Mikva

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Abner Joseph Mikva

Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
Death: July 04, 2016 (90)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States (Bladder cancer)
Immediate Family:

Son of Henry Abraham Mikva and Ida Mikva
Husband of Private
Father of Private User; Private User and Rachel Shaine Mikva Rosenberg
Brother of Rose Zeid

Occupation: Attorney, Congressman, Judge
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Abner Joseph Mikva


Abner Joseph Mikva (January 21, 1926 – July 4, 2016) was an American politician, federal judge, lawyer and law professor. He was a member of the Democratic Party. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he spent his entire political and law career in his hometown in Chicago, Illinois.

Mikva served in the United States House of Representatives representing Illinois's 2nd congressional district (1969–1973) and 10th congressional district (1975–1979). He was appointed Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit by President Bill Clinton, serving from 1991 through 1994. He served as the White House Counsel from 1994 through 1995 under the Clinton presidency.

During his later career, Mikva taught law at University of Chicago Law School and at Northwestern University. He mentored future President of the United States Barack Obama during his early years in law. In 2014, Obama honored Mikva by presenting him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mikva died in Chicago at the age of 90 after suffering from bladder cancer.[1]

Contents [show] Early life and family[edit] Mikva was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son of Ida (Fishman) and Henry Abraham Mikva, Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine.[2] Mikva and his parents spoke Yiddish at home.[3] During the Great Depression, his father was often unemployed and the family relied on welfare.[3] Abner attended local public schools. During World War II, he enlisted and was trained in the Army Air Corps, but the war ended the day before he was due to be deployed.[3] Afterwards, the GI Bill enabled Mikva to attend the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee[4] before transferring to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he met his future wife, Zorita Rose (Zoe) Wise. Both graduated in 1948 and soon married.[3]

The couple moved to Chicago, Illinois, where (as Zoe had urged) Mikva enrolled in law school[3] at the University of Chicago. He received his J.D. in 1951. The couple eventually had three daughters: Mary Lane (b. 1963), a circuit court judge in Chicago; Lauri, who teaches at Northwestern University and worked for the Legal Services Corporation; and Rachel, a rabbi and professor who teaches at the Chicago Theological Seminary.[5]

Political career[edit] After graduation, Mikva clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton.[6] He also returned to Chicago and began practicing law, at a firm which became Goldberg, Devoe, Shadur & Mikva after he made partner. The firm handles labor, real estate, commercial and civil rights cases, as well as some criminal defense.[3]

Mikva as a U.S. representative during the 1970s Nonetheless, 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.[7]

He spent ten years in the Illinois House of Representatives[8] before serving in the U.S. Congress from 1969 to 1973 and 1975 to 1979. While in the House of Representatives, Mikva was part of the Kosher Nostra, a group of independent, clean Democrats that included future U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Paul Simon, future Illinois Comptroller and candidate for Governor Dawn Clark Netsch, and Rep. Anthony Scariano.

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.[9] Both parties attempted to redistrict Mikva out of Congress.[10] It led to the redistricting for the 1972 elections put Hyde Park in the 1st District.[10] It was for the first time since 1903. It would have pitted Mikva against Democratic incumbent Ralph Metcalfe in a district with nearly a 90% black population; moving to stay in the 2nd District would have matched him against Democratic incumbent Morgan F. Murphy, who had previously represented the 3rd District.[11] Mikva instead moved to the North Shore's 10th District.

After he was defeated by Republican Samuel H. Young in 1972,[9] he successfully ran in 1974 Democratic wave election; his status was enhanced in the predominantly Republican, suburban district because he was viewed as critical of the Chicago Democratic establishment.[12] In 1976, he was narrowly re-elected by 201 votes against Republican John Edward Porter in what was one of the most expensive congressional races to that time.[9] When he won by a little over 2,000 votes in 1978, he joked to supporters that he had "won by a landslide."

Judicial career[edit]

Mikva's official portrait as Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals On May 29, 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated Mikva to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.[13] Despite opposition from anti-gun control interests that spent over $1 million to oppose his nomination, Mikva was confirmed by a 58–31 vote of the United States Senate on September 25, 1979.[14] Mikva then resigned his congressional seat (Porter succeeded Mikva after a special election).

Judge Mikva served on the D.C. Circuit from 1979 until his resignation in 1994 (two years before he would have been forced to step down as Chief Judge) to become White House Counsel to President Bill Clinton.[15] During his 15 years as judge and four as Chief Judge, Mikva used his experience in the legislative branch as well as with the conservative Justice Minton, to craft his opinions. Mikva's most controversial decisions struck down the Pentagon ban against gays serving in the U.S. military (overturned on appeal by the circuit sitting en banc, but the ban was ultimately overturned by Executive Order), and in 1982 upholding regulation of air bags in automobiles.[3]

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).[16]

Post-judicial career[edit] Mikva taught law at Northwestern University and was White House Counsel under President Bill Clinton from 1994 to 1995, finding himself the oldest member of the White House team, and eventually resigning due to exhaustion.[3]

He then returned to the University of Chicago Law School, serving as the Schwarz Lecturer and the senior director of the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic. While at the University, Mikva came to better know future president Barack Obama, whom he mentored and supported politically. Obama awarded Mikva the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 24, 2014.[17] Mikva had offered Obama a law clerk position in his judicial office after Obama graduated from Harvard Law School, but Obama declined. Future Obama appointee and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan did serve as one of Mikva's law clerks and was then a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.[18] Mikva also encouraged Obama to listen to preachers to understand public speaking, "listen[ing] 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."[18]

Mikva died under hospice care in Chicago, Illinois from complications of bladder cancer on July 4, 2016, aged 90.[1] He was also suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the time of his death.[19]

Other pursuits[edit] Mikva served as a mediator through JAMS, and was co-chairman of the Constitution Project's bipartisan Constitutional Amendments Committee.[20]

In November 2004, Mikva was an international election monitor of Ukraine's contested presidential election.[21] In July 2006, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich named Mikva chair of the Illinois Human Rights Commission.[22]

In 2009, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn requested that Mikva lead a commission investigating the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign for admitting applicants[5] (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.[5]

Mikva Challenge[edit] Mikva and his wife Zoe started the Mikva Challenge, a civic leadership program for Chicago youth in 1997.[23] The organization now has chapters in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. It helps youth to expand their political desire by working as election judges, volunteering on campaigns, advising city officials, and creating local activism projects to improve their schools and communities.[23]

Legacy and awards[edit] Mikva's congressional and judicial papers are archived at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois. [24]

In 1998, Mikva received the Chicago History Museum's "Making History Award" for Distinction in Public Service.[25]

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Abner Joseph Mikva's Timeline

January 20, 1926
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
July 4, 2016
Age 90
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States
- 1951
Illinois, United States
Wisconsin, United States
- 1948
St. Louis, Missouri, United States