Gavel Grab

Analyst: Native American Nominee 'Twisting in the Wind'

Arvo Mikkanen, a nominee of President Obama’s for the federal bench in Oklahoma, has received a “unanimously qualified” ABA rating. He went to Dartmouth and Yale, served as a clerk for two federal judges and has served almost two decades as a federal prosecutor.

But Mikkanen (photo) is partly Native American, and his nomination has been languishing since it was made in February. “Like so many of his predecessors, Mikkanen has been left twisting in the wind by the U.S. government,” writes legal analyst Andrew Cohen in a scalding commentary in The Atlantic.

Cohen uses a Senate vote Monday, to confirm the first openly gay male for a federal district court judgeship, as a springboard for urging a committee hearing on Mikkanen’s nomination. His article is entitled, “Senate Okays Gay Judge, But Native Americans Need Not Apply.”

J. Paul Oetken was the gay man confirmed Monday (see Gavel Grab). Now that the Senate took that historic step, Cohen writes, “[T]he august body can begin to do right by another minority group that has been persecuted for centuries in America.” He elaborates:

“In the nation’s history, only two Native Americans have ever been confirmed by the Senate for a job on the federal bench. …  Those numbers are particularly appalling when you consider that (only) 170 or so black judges have been appointed over the same span.”

Oklahoma’s congressional delegation has denounced Mikkanen’s nomination as “unacceptable” but not explained publicly why that’s the case. The White House hasn’t spent any political capital on advancing the nomination to the forefront of judicial nomination battles, Cohen says. He laments the inaction:

 ”The Senate unburdened itself Monday from one of its many shameful legacies. But it still bears the white man’s burden, and the nation’s past due responsibility, of bringing Native American lawyers to the federal bench. It is no justification — merely a convenient excuse, maybe for both parties – that the White House didn’t properly consult with Oklahoma’s delegation before placing Mikkanen’s name in nomination.

“Mikkanen has done enough in his professional life to merit a hearing and a vote on the merits of his candidacy. He went to Yale, just like Oetken. He clerked for a smart judge, just like Oetken. He’s worked for the executive branch — just like Oetken. At last count, there were 91 vacancies throughout the federal court system. Do you think maybe the Senate would owe the American people at least an explanation for sitting on the Mikkanen nomination?”


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