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


Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsinmarker, Mikva attended the University of Chicago Law School, from which he graduated in 1951. After graduation, he clerked for Supreme Court Justicemarker 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 Stevenson and 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.

He spent ten years in the Illinois House of Representatives 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 Sidemarker's lakefront wards including Hyde Parkmarker, 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 hostile to the Chicago Democratic Machine. 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 United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Despite opposition from anti-gun control interests, Mikva was confirmed by a 58-31 vote of the United States Senate on September 25, 1979. 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.

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 Universitymarker 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 November 2004, Mikva was an international election monitor of Ukrainemarker'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 US President Barack Obama. Mikva offered Obama a law clerk position in his judicial office after Obama graduated from Harvard Law Schoolmarker; Obama declined the offer. 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.”

Abner Mikva and his wife Zoe started a civic leadership program for Chicago youth in 1997 called the Mikva Challenge. This organization works with over 3,500 youth a year getting them involved in experiential activities in the democratic process working as election judges, volunteering on campaigns, and creating local activism projects to improve their schools and communities.


  1. Abner Mikva Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, April 12, 1999.

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