MIKVA, ABNER J. (1926– ), judge, legislator, special counsel to U.S. President Bill Clinton. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mikva attended public schools there. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, and graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1951. Mikva was law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton from 1951 to 1952, then entered private practice in Chicago.
In 1956 Mikva was elected to the Illinois state legislature, running as a Democrat but against the Democratic machine. He served in the state legislature for ten years, writing reforms of the state criminal code and state mental health facilities; he gained a reputation as an opponent of corruption in the state welfare system and apparently earned the enmity of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. In 1968 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He lost his bid for reelection in 1972 when Chicago's legislative districts were remapped, and he returned to Chicago, practicing law and teaching at Northwestern University School of Law.
In 1974 Mikva was reelected to Congress; he served there as a member of key committees until 1979, when President Jimmy Carter nominated him for the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. Mikva's nomination was opposed by the National Rifle Association, and conservative opponents unsuccessfully challenged his appointment with a lawsuit. He served in the Court of Appeals from 1979, becoming chief judge in 1991. During his judicial career, Mikva wrote over 300 opinions, many concerning free speech and consumer rights. In one noteworthy case, he ordered that a gay student be reinstated at the U.S. Naval Academy. He did not uphold the right of an air force captain to wear a yarmulke while on duty, though throughout the hearing whenever a skullcap was mentioned, he felt for the back of his head.
In 1994 he gave up his judicial appointment to become White House counsel to President Bill Clinton. With this new appointment within the executive branch, Mikva had served in all three branches of the federal government. In 1995 he returned to teaching, writing frequently on political and judicial issues. He continued to be known as an advocate of free speech, in 2001 speaking out against acts of racial profiling and wrongful imprisonment of Muslim immigrants in the United States.