Abner Mikva dies at 90

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Former federal appeals judge and congressman Abner Mikva has died at the age of 90.

Mikva, who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit, died Monday, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Associated Press and the Washington Post report. The cause was bladder cancer.

Mikva graduated from the University of Chicago’s law school and secured a Supreme Court clerkship. He served in the Illinois Legislature, the U.S. House, the D.C. Circuit and as White House counsel to President Bill Clinton.

Mikva “was something of a talent scout,” the New York Times reported in 2010. He hired Elena Kagan as a law clerk while on the D.C. Circuit and also offered a clerkship to Barack Obama, who turned down the job for a political career.

President Obama gave Mikva the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

“No matter how far we go in life, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to those who gave us those first, firm pushes at the start,” Obama said in a statement published by Tribune. “For me, one of those people was Ab Mikva.

“When I was graduating law school, Ab encouraged me to pursue public service. He saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself, but I know why he did it—Ab represented the best of public service himself and he believed in empowering the next generation of young people to shape our country.”

Kagan also issued a statement, according to the Tribune coverage. “Ab Mikva gave me my first job—and my first chance—in the law,” she said. “For more than 60 years, Ab devoted his extraordinary gifts of intellect, wisdom, energy and spirit to advancing the public good and strengthening the country he loved. He was a person of complete integrity and unwavering principle.”

Another former Mikva clerk is Beth Heifetz, head of the Jones Day issues and appeals practice group and director of judicial clerk recruiting. She gave this statement to the ABA Journal:

“When I interviewed with Judge Mikva, his warmth and smile—not to mention our common roots in Wisconsin—created an immediate connection, one that continued from that day forward. He taught me to write clearly and concisely and never ever to use footnotes. He brought his clerks into his family, he introduced us to his many interesting friends, he took us with him as he gave speeches around town, he showed us the value of being involved in our communities. Those were great opportunities for young lawyers trying to figure out where our careers and our lives might take us. Judge Mikva not only gave me my start in the law, but he provided wise counsel and support in the many years since I clerked for him. The kindness, the loyalty, the good judgment and the warmth—I will miss all that in my life.”

Mikva began his career in politics with a setback. As Mikva told the story, he visited his Democratic ward committeeman to see how he could help in the elections.

The committeeman asked Mikva who had sent him. “Nobody,” Mikva answered.

“We don’t want nobody nobody sent,” the committeeman said.

Updated at 11 a.m. to include statement by Beth Heifetz. Updated at 4:10 p.m. to include statements from Kagan and Obama, and to add link to AP coverage.

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