Abner Mikva

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Abner Mikva

Abner Mikva is featured in a

Abner J. Mikva was a far-left former Congressman from Chicago. He is married to Zoe Mikva. He died in 2016.

Mikva served, in all three branches of government. He was a five-term Democrat congressman from Illinois, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit, and White House counsel for President Bill Clinton. He has also served as a law professor at the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago, and writes frequently about judicial and political issues.[1]

Early life

Abner Joseph Mikva was born in Milwaukee on Jan. 21, 1926. He attended public schools there before enlisting in the Army Air Corps, where he served as a navigator in the final year of World War II. He attended the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 1948, and married Zorita Wise the same year. He received his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1951. [2]

Supported striking students

Twenty University of Chicago campus leaders met in April 1949, to demonstrate their support of the striking students at the City Collage of New York. The strike was called by the CCNY Student Government to protest alleged discriminatory activities on the part of two faculty members. It was further provoked by the action of the city police force in breaking the student picket lines and arresting several of the student pickets. The meeting adopted a resolution endorsing the strike.

Those Signing the statement were:[3]

Plus the University chapters of,

Legal beginnings

The Wisconsin native graduated from the University of Chicago Law School, clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton, then returned to Chicago to practice labor law with Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg.

From 1945 to 1947, leftist lawyer Arthur Goldberg was a partner of Goldberg and Devoe. Then in 1947, he became senior partner of Goldberg, Devoe, Shadur, & Mikva, with Abner Mikva in Chicago. In 1948, Goldberg was appointed general counsel for the CIO and the United Steelworkers of America. He participated in and was a legal advisor on the merger of American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the CIO in 1955.

Anastaplo case

George Anastaplo a classmate of Mikva's and Patsy Mink's at the University of Chicago Law School started a major controversy.

Anastaplo told the Character and Fitness Committee of the Illinois Bar that he supported a right to revolution. This disclosure led to a question heard in the 1950s: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party USA? Anastaplo refused to answer. His political beliefs, he said, were none of the Committee’s business. The Committee investigated and because he had not answered its questions, it told him he could not be a lawyer. “That’s unconstitutional,” Anastaplo said, and he spent the next decade litigating the case.[4]

According to Anastaplo "Abner J. Mikva, a law school classmate, who was from early on friendly to my cause."[5]

In 1954 amicus curiae briefs were filed on Anastplo's behalf by the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild. The ACLU brief, filed in the Supreme Court of Illinois was signed by Leon Despres, Abner J. Mikva, Alexander L. Polikoff and Bernard Weisberg. The NLG brief filed on the same occasion was signed by Pearl M. Hart, Jessica Davidson and Robert Silberstein.[6]

Support from Bob Pickens and IVI

In 1955 Robert Picken became president of Peerless Confectioners assuming the job upon the death of his father-in-law. But he was also Chair of the Hyde Park Independent Voters of illinois and, in that capacity, was among those who decided that 28-year-old Abner Mikva would get IVI support in his bid for the State legislature. In Hyde Park, that support was crucial, but to Mikva the personal support of Bob Picken was a great asset. "I was very young and he brought a kind of gravitas to my campaign", he recalls. "He never trumpeted his own cause. He was just incredibly effective. His background in business made him better at dealing with people like Julian Levi and Daley than Leon Despres and I were. He could see their points of view, and be sympathetic to them without giving in to them. But while he was running the campaign, and sometimes running interference with the likes of Julian Levi and Richard J. Daley, Picken was not above licking envelopes and cleaning up the office. There was no task he wouldn't do".

After he was elected and until he moved from Hyde Park to Evanston, Mikva used Picken as a sounding board. He had incredibly good common sense, especially about financial matters. As one example, he advised Mikva intelligently on the matter of the state income tax, which other people opposed as being anti-business. He, a very successful businessman, explained that businesses don't care so much about the tax itself as about the stability of the tax policy. Good businessmen always know how to price their products to accommodate the local taxes.[7]

Political career

In 1956, Mikva ran for the Illinois House as a Democrat against the Democrat machine, and was elected. In fact, he was named "best freshman legislator" by Springfield reporters. Along with Paul Simon, he fought for fair housing and against corruption in the state welfare system, winning the enmity of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Daley's political machine tried to freeze Mikva and Simon out, but the two persevered, and eventually Mikva wrote sweeping reforms of the state criminal code, as well as of its mental health facilities. He moved from Springfield to Washington and became a leader in the U.S. House of Representatives in key committees. Nevertheless, he was out of Congress in 1972 after the Republican party remapped his district with the tacit approval of Chicago's mayor. He returned in 1974 by winning in a largely conservative and wealthy district.[8]

Working with Alinsky

In the 1966 Democratic primary election, the machine-backed incumbent in the 2nd Congressional District, Barrett O'Hara, was challenged by a young, reform-minded state legislator, Abner Mikva, who was supported by "liberal, independent forces and The Woodlawn Organization". To avoid jeopardizing the organization's nonpartisan tax exemption, The Woodlawn Organization staffers went on the Mikva campaign payroll, working Woodlawn's precincts in competition with the resourceful ward committeeman, Marshall Korshak, and his dedicated band of precinct captains, some of whom, it was said in Woodlawn, were not above buying votes if moral suasion fell on deaf ears. To check Korshak's men, TWO used the Blackstone Rangers, an increasingly notorious street gang, to plaster Woodlawn buildings with signs at two in the morning of election day that warned it was a violation of federal law to accept money in return for your vote. When Korshak's men saw the signs a few hours later, they were livid, not least because they couldn't remove them; the Rangers had used the same Super-Glue that the Chicago police used to affix virtually irremovable signs to abandoned cars. Nonetheless, when Mikva was defeated in a close election, Saul Alinsky was furious, blaming TWO's new staff director, Leon Finney, for allowing the machine to pull out a victory by stealing just enough votes in Woodlawn precincts. Saul Alinsky, even without Nicholas von Hoffman and Art Brazier, thought that a Mikva victory, made possible by TWO's political muscle, could have been a springboard to bigger things on the South Side.[9]

Mikva's staffers

In 1968 newly elected Congressmen Abner Mikva employed five staff:

Black Revolution forum

On December 12, 1968, the 19th annual meeting of the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference convened a forum on the "black revolution and its implications for an integrated community".

Panelists were;[10]

Conference chairman Rufus Cook moderated the panel.

Under Army surveillance


"112th MI Group [January–February 1971]. Major Topics: USAINTC civil disturbance pamphlets; Walter Birdwell; organizations and individuals on file; ACLU; KKK; SDS; Unitarian Church; Curtis Graves; Bob Eckhardt; Cassius Clay; Adlai Stevenson III; Abner Mikva; Otto Kerner; press coverage; army agent undercover as postman; Barbara Jordan; Oklahoma Office of Interagency Coordination."

Hyde Park-Kenwood Voices

In January 1969, the Chicago radical newspaper, Hyde Park-Kenwood Voices, listed those who had helped produce its first 16 monthly issues as "writers, researchers, photographers, artists and clerical workers".

The list included Abner Mikva.[11]

Nat'l Conference for a drastic cutback in military spending

The Communist Party USA-controlled Chicago Peace Council convened a "National conference for a drastic cutback in military spending" in Chicago, April 5 & 6, 1975.

The purpose of the National Conference is to mount a national campaign and a vigorous program of action which will speak to the hundreds of thousands who were part of the inspiring resistance to the war in Indo- China. The people of the U.S. can and must turn this country around.

Speakers at the Conference included Congressman Abner Mikva, Robert Johnston (regional Director, UAW), Richard Criley (Exec. Dir. Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights), Norman Roth (Fres. Local 6, UAW), Fr. Gerard Grant S.J. (Loyola University); Ed Sadlowski (Regional Director, United Steel Workers Union) and Frank Rosen (Intl. V-P, U.E.)[12].

Leftist views

While a Congressman Mikva enjoyed an Americans for Democratic Action rating of 92%. Mikva backed anti-war demonstrations called by the communist dominated National Peace Action Coalition and the People's Coalition for Peace and Justice. He also endorsed activities of the Trotskyist controlled Women's National Abortion Action Coalition. [13]

Mikva won a reputation as a tireless proponent of abortion rights and a foe of the death penalty.

After one unsuccessful try, he was elected to the United States Congress in 1968 to represent Chicago's South Side. In the House, he was an early advocate of gun control and a fierce opponent of the Vietnam War.

In 1972, he was swept from office by a combination of redistricting and Richard M. Nixon's landslide victory. But he came back to win a new seat in 1974, and though he won re-election by the narrowest of margins in his staunchly Republican district on the affluent North Shore, he won national prominence as a left-leaning politician about whom The Washington Post wrote in 1976, "Common Cause members all but gush when his name is mentioned."

By the time President Carter nominated him to the appellate court in 1979, Mr. Mikva had made enough enemies that the National Rifle Association spent six months and $1 million trying unsuccessfully to block his confirmation by the Senate. From the bench, Judge Mikva has remained an advocate of liberal causes; he ordered the reinstatement of a gay student to the United States Naval Academy in 1983, ruling that the armed forces may not discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.[14]

IPS "who's who"-20th anniversary celebrations

By its second decade the Institute for Policy Studies had built up considerable influence in the U.S. government.

According to Information Digest the Institute for Policy Studies celebrated its 20th anniversary with an April 5, 1983, reception at the National Building Museum attended by approximately 1,000 IPS staffers and former staff.[15]

In addition to 1960s folk songs by Josh White, Jr. and a bluegrass band, consisted of an underdone "roast" of IPS leaders Marcus Raskin and Richard Barnet hosted and chaired by IPS trustee Paul C Warnke, head of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and chief SALTII negotiator for the Carter Administration. Zoe Mikva, wife of Congressman Abner Mikva handled arrangements . The "roasting" was urdertaken by former Senator George McGovern, Rep. Ron Dellums, Ralph Nader, lesbian activist and author Rita Mae Brown, Village Voice cartoonist Jules Feiffer, Harry Belafonte and Cora Weiss, substituting for IPS board chairman Peter Weiss.

Many of IPS's current and former Capitol Hill friends attended or were represented by members of their staff. Among those serving on the IPS 20th Anniversary Comittee chaired by Paul C. Warnke were Senators Chris Dodd {D-CT} and Gary Hart (D. CO) with an endorsement provided by Senator Mark Hatfield {R OR}.

Former Senators on the committee included James Abourezk, recently an IPS Trustee, Birch Bayh, Frank Church, William Fullbright, Eugene McCarthy and Gaylord Nelson.

The Congressional IPS comittee members included Les Aspin {D. WI}, George E Brown, Jr. (D.CA}, Philip Burton (D.CA), George Crockett (D-MI}, Ron Dellums (D.CA}, former Texas Congressman Robert Eckhardt, Don Edwards {D.CA}, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, Tom Harkin {D-IA}, Robert Kastenmeier (D. WI}, Chairman of the Subcomittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of Justice, George Miller (D-CA}, Richard Ottinger {D-NY}, Leon Panetta (D-CA}, Henry Reuss (D.WI}, Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, Patricia Schroeder {D.CO}, John Seiberling (D.OH} and Ted Weiss {D.NY}.

Among those attending were Victor Navasky and Christopher Hitchens of The Nation, Abner Mikva, appointed by president Carter to the U.S. Court of Appeals, philanthropist Philip Stern and Rep. Robert Kastenmeier. Among the well-advertised "no shows" were Bianca Jagger, who has been lobbying Congress with the assistance of the Washington Office on Latin America and the CISPES-Committee in Solidarity with the Peoples of El Salvador, against U.S. aid to El Salvador and for aid to the Sandinistas; and Atlanta Mayor and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young.

Members of the IPS 20th Anniversary Comittee included:

David Aberswerth, Gar Alperovitz, David Baltimore, Mayor Marion Barry, Norman Birnbaum, Conrad Cafritz, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, Dr. Helen Caldicott, Charles Caldwell, Lillian Calhoun, David Carley, Lisle Carter, Jr., Noam Chomsky, Dr. Mary Coleman, Catherine Conover, Dr. Franklin Davis, Diana DeVegh, Dr. James Dixon, Leonard Dreyfus, Celia Eckhardt, William Fitzgerald, Nancy Folger, Yolande Fox, Dr. Jerome Frank, Robert Freedman, Clayton Fritchey, John Kenneth Galbraith, Cherif Guellal, Mark Green, Dean Charles Halperin, Sidney Harman, W. Averell Harriman, Terry Herndon, Seymour Hersh, Karl Hess, Sonya Hoover, Richard Hubbard, David Hunter, Ivan Illich, Christopher Jencks, Vernon Jordan, Jr. Patricia King, Gabriel Kolko, Adm. Gene LaRocque, Dr. E. James Lieberman, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, Philip Lilienthal, Sally Lilienthal, Edgar Lockwood, Franklin Long, Dr. Reginald Lourie, Ira Lowe, Dr. Bernard Lown, Michael Maccoby, Harry Magdoff, Louis Martin, Hilda Mason, Anthony Mazzochi, Dorothy McGhee, Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr., Sidney Morgenbesser, David Morris, very Rev. James Parks Morton, Stephen Muller, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ara Oztemel, Grace Paley, Charles Peters, Dean Ronald Pollack, David Ramage, Jr., Earl Ravenal, Cary Ridder, Mitchell Rogovin, Florence Roisman, Maurice Rosenblatt, Charles Savitt, Andre Schiffrin, Stephen Schlossberg, Mark Schneider, Herman Schwartz, Herbert Semel, John Sewell, Richard Sobol, Ralph Stavins, Ben Stephansky, Philip Stern, Studs Terkel, Michael Tigar, Michael Trister, Dr. George Wald, Peter Weiss, Stanley Weiss, Jerome Wisner, Gary Wills, William Winpisinger, Andrew Young and Anne Zill.

Presidential appointments

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated Mikva for the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia, a seat of judicial power second only to the Supreme Court. His nomination touched off a six-month lobbying campaign from an old nemesis, the National Rifle Association, and he barely made it out of the judiciary committee. Even in Mikva's victory, his conservative enemies challenged the appointment with an unsuccessful lawsuit.

Mikva served sixteen years on the appeals court, rising to chief judge. He authored more than three hundred opinions, including several defending free speech, as well as a strong defense of consumer rights, especially in a case involving laxer standards for air bags. His idealism could be quixotic at times, as in his striking down of a Defense Department ban on gays in the military, which was later reversed. A dozen years of Republicans in the presidency prevented him for an appointment to the Supreme Court.

In an era when it was fashionable to bash government as unwieldy and inefficient, Mikva defended it against the cynics. "The closer we live together, cheek and jowl, the more we need government," he said.

That included defending the office of the chief executive. In 1994, President Clinton asked Mikva to give up his lifetime appointment to the bench and replace Lloyd Cutler as White House counsel. It was the time of Ruby Ridge, of Waco, of Whitewater, and of the investigations of several Cabinet members. Mikva proved to be a passionate defender: of Whitewater, he simply said, "There's nothing there."[16]

Employing Elena Kagan

While studying at Harvard Law School from 1983 - 1986, Elena Kagan worked in Lawyer's offices each Summer as a paralegal, associate and research assistant. From 1986 - 1987 she worked as a Judicial Clerk for , Hon. Abner Mikva in the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit.

Employed Greg Kinczewski

Greg Kinczewski provides Marco Consulting Group with legal counsel and is in charge of its proxy voting service, which analyzes and votes on shareholder issues at more than 3,000 U.S. and foreign companies each year. Prior to joining The Marco Consulting Group in 1991, Greg Kinczewski reported on the White House, Congress and the Pentagon, and served as a press aide to U.S. Congressman Abner Mikva. He litigated cases before the Illinois and Federal trial, appellate and supreme courts, and was general counsel to several private and municipal corporations.[17]

Endorsed US. House Candidate Barack Obama

On March 5, 2000, Obama was endorsed by former congressman and White House counsel Abner Mikva; former Chicago Alderman Leon Despres; Dr. Quentin Young, an advocate for universal health care; Michael Shakman, an attorney who led the legal fight to eliminate patronage positions in city government, and Eugene Ford, a former aide to late Mayor Harold Washington, in his bid to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush.

Mikva stated of Obama, ""I can't think of any candidate I've had more enthusiasm for." Obama is "bright, thoughtful and articulate." He also stated that he admired Obama's efforts on campaign finance reform.[18]

"Hooray for Progressives"

Debs Dinner 2002 program

"Ab & Zoe Mikva" sent the message "Hooray for Progressives" to the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America 44th Annual Eugene V. Debs - Norman Thomas - Michael Harrington Dinner, May 10, 2002.[19]

Chicago Area Friends of SNCC

In 2005 Chicago Area Friends of SNCC organized the "Tell the Story: The Chicago SNCC History Project, 1960-1965" Chicago Area Friends of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Chicago Civil Rights Movement, c. 1960-1965. The event was held October 21-22, 2005 Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois.

The Honorary Co Chairs consisted of:

Honoring Frank Wilkinson

Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights organized a "Celebration of the The Dynamic Life of Frank Wilkinson (1914-2006)" on Sunday October 29, 2006. Wilkinson had been a leader of the Communist Party USA, the New American Movement and Democratic Socialists of America[21].

Honoring Committee members included Abner Mikva.

2006 Citizen Action awards

In September 2006 at Citizen Action/Illinois Annual Dinner, the Honorable Judge Abner Mikva received the annual Lerner-Egan Award for a lifetime of progressive leadership. Retiring State Representative Larry McKeon received a special award on behalf of his commitment to working people and consumers. At our Annual Convention in Peoria in December 2006, Ginny Nailing, a United Auto Workers Retiree and resident of Peoria, received the Milton Cohen Award for her thirty years of service working for a progressive agenda. Tracy Fischman, Vice-President of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Chicago Area, received the Michael Aguilar Award for community organizing.[22]

Business and Professional People for the Public Interest

In 2008, Abner Mikva and Zoe Mikva were listed as sponsors/financial contributors to the Chicago based Business and Professional People for the Public Interest.[23]

Mikva and Obama


According to the Chicago Sun-Times April 14, 2009;[24]

Abner Mikva, a revered figure in Illinois politics, was an early Barack Obama booster and mentor. Mikva's backing--he is the gold standard for integrity in Illinois politics--was important in Obama establishing his credentials in the early days of his political career and in his U.S. Senate run.

In Chicago, the Obamas settled in Hyde Park and Obama became a lecturer at the University of Chicago law school. Abner Mikva, whom Obama already knew from Washington, also taught there, and the two renewed their acquaintance and became close. "We would have lunch and breakfast together and talk about a lot of things, different issues," Mikva said.[25]

Abner Mikva, the former Chicago congressman, federal judge and White House counsel to President Bill Clinton, puts a 21st-century twist on the notion that Clinton was "the nation's first black president."

"I think when this is all over, people are going to say that Barack Obama is the first Jewish president," he said.

Mikva, was one of Sen. Obama's early admirers, beginning in 1990 when he tried to hire the first black president of the Harvard Law Review for a coveted clerkship. (Obama turned him down, saying he was going to move to Chicago and run for public office. "I thought that showed a lot of chutzpah on his part," Mikva says with a laugh.)

Since then, Mikva's support for and nurturance of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has never wavered. He is one of many influential Chicago Jews who have been among Obama's earliest and most ardent backers.[26]

On November 4th, 2008, Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, won the presidential election in the United States of America and thus made history both globally and locally. The first African-American ever to win the presidency, he was also the first president ever with strong bonds to the University of Chicago and to the modern day city of Chicago, with its long and notorious history of machine politics and corruption. One of Obama’s senior political advisers and University of Chicago Law School colleagues, Abner Mikva, who also served as general counsel in the Clinton White House, summed up Obama’s victory as also a victory for Chicago: “Really what we’ll get out of this is, it will make clear once and for all Chicago is not just full of pork-barrel, sleazy politicians who know only Machine politics… We also will have a very special president.” [27].

Presidential Medal of Honor


In 2014 President Obama awarded Abner Mikva the Presidential Medal of Honor.


  1. http://igpa.uillinois.edu/ethics/person/abner-j-mikva
  2. NY Times, August 12, 1984
  3. Chicago Maroon April 22 1949
  4. http://www.hydeparkhistory.org/herald/anastaplo-talk.pdf
  5. The Constitutionalist: notes on the first amendment By George Anastaplo, Laurence Berns, page xx
  6. The Constitutionalist: notes on the first amendment By George Anastaplo, Laurence Berns, page 347
  7. [1] Hyde Park historical Society newsletter Spring 2003, The politics of Robert Picken
  8. http://igpa.uillinois.edu/ethics/person/abner-j-mikva
  9. Let them call me rebel,Saul Alinsky-his life and legacy Alfred A. Knopf New York 1989, page 514
  10. Hyde Park-Kenwood Voices, December 1968, page 14
  11. Hyde Park-Kenwood Voices, January 16 1969, page 4
  12. The nationwide drive against law enforcement intelligence operations : hearing before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Ninety-fourth Congress, first session ..." page 179
  13. Pink Sheet on the Left, October 30, 1972
  14. NY Times August 12, 1984
  15. Information Digest April l5, 1983 p77-79
  16. http://igpa.uillinois.edu/ethics/person/abner-j-mikva
  17. http://www.marcoconsulting.com/3.1.html
  18. Daily Herald, Monday, March 6, 2000. Section 1, Page 7.
  19. Dinner program
  20. http://www.ben.edu/programs/cafsncc/
  21. http://www.ccdbr.org/events/wilkinson/Wilkinson_Committee.html
  22. Cit Action 2006 Annual Report]
  23. BPI website: Board of Directors
  24. http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2009/04/another_chicagoan_laurie_mikva.html
  25. [2] Chicago Jewish news October 24, 2008
  26. [3] Chicago Jewish News October 24, 2008
  27. Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 5, 2008, p. 8A