Arvo Mikkanen

  • September 13, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Obama administration’s effort to fill federal judgeship vacancies, while garnering plaudits for its emphasis on diversity, continues to face puzzling obstructionism from Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, as the Atlantic ’s Andrew Cohen notes here.

    In his article, Cohen tries to figure out Sen. Coburn’s ongoing obstruction of President Obama’s nomination of Arvo Mikkanen, a Native American, to a federal judgeship in Oklahoma. Obama nominated Mikkanen more than a year ago. Coburn has been steadfast, albeit vague, in his opposition to the nominee.

    “When asked this past winter,” Cohen writes, “why he was blocking the Mikkanen nomination, he answered: ‘no comment.’ When asked if he knew Mikkanen, the senator responded: ‘I know plenty. I have no comment.’ Eight months later, there’s still no word – and no scheduled confirmation hearing. Thus the Mikkanen nomination remains in political limbo while litigants in Oklahoma have to wait even longer to have their rights adjudicated in federal court.”

    The National Congress of American Indians noted that Mikkanen, an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, would if confirmed be “only the third Native American in history to secure a federal judgeship.”  Jefferson Keel, president of NCAI, urged the Senate to swiftly confirm Mikkanen’s nomination, noting it would “make the federal judiciary more representative of all citizens of this country, including Native Americans.”

    Cohen’s piece centers on Sen. Coburn’s (pictured) latest action to obstruct the judicial nominations process, noting that the senator “has reportedly preempted the judicial nomination to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal court which has jurisdiction over Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Kansas, and Wyoming. This time he has blocked the nomination of Janet Levit, a Yale Law School graduate and dean of the University of Tulsa School of Law.”

    Cohen cites a report from that says Coburn is distraught over Levit’s membership in the American Society of International Law. Cohen writes:

    So it has come to this in the world of judicial nominations. A qualified judicial candidate cannot even get nominated, much less get a hearing or a vote on the Senate floor, because she is a member of a group with a mission ‘to foster the study of international law and to promote the establishment and maintenance of international relations on the basis of law and justice.’ What a terrible message that sends to the American legal community – and to the rest of the world.

    Despite Sen. Coburn’s obstinacy, the administration has still achieved success in diversifying the federal bench, as The Associated Press’s Jesse J. Holland reports.

    “More than 70 percent of Obama’s confirmed judicial nominees during his first two years were ‘non-traditional,’ or nominees who were not white males. That far exceeds the percentages in the two-term administration of Bill Clinton (48.1 percent) and George W. Bush (32.9 percent), according to Sheldon Goldman, author of the authoritative book, ‘Picking Federal Judges,’” the AP reports.

    In an interview with ACSblog, University of Maryland law school professor Sherrilyn Ifill talked about the need to confirm jurists “who represent and are reflective of the larger society ….”

    For more information on the administration’s efforts to fill federal court vacancies – there are more than 90 – see

  • July 21, 2011

    by Nicole Flatow

    Following the Senate’s confirmation of J. Paul Oetken as the first openly gay male federal judge, President Barack Obama has announced another nomination that would add diversity to our courts.

    Litigator and former assistant U.S. attorney Michael Walter Fitzgerald has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, becoming Obama’s fourth openly gay nominee. The others are Alison Nathan, a nominee to the Southern District of New York, and Edward Dumont, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

    These nominations have contributed to the record diversity of Obama’s nominees, Politico reports.

    Despite a backlog in confirming Obama’s judicial nominations, the president has surpassed his predecessors in putting forth diverse candidates to the federal bench. Obama has nominated more female, African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American and openly gay candidates as federal judges than Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush. That includes two female Supreme Court justices, one of whom is the high court’s only Hispanic justice. The numbers are particularly striking for Asian-American nominees. Obama has nominated half of the Asian-American federal judges currently on the bench.

    Of course, many of those nominees haven’t had the success of Oetken in getting through the confirmation process.

  • February 14, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Jeremy Bressman, a second year student at Harvard Law School. Jeremy's interests include civil procedure, sentencing law, and federal courts. This guest blog was originally posted on the blog of the Harvard Law & Policy Review, the official journal of the American Constitution Society.

    A few weeks ago, President Obama nominated Paul Oetken for a seat on the Southern District of New York. Oetken is eminently qualified for the position: After graduating from Yale Law ('91), he clerked on three courts, including the Supreme Court for Justice Blackmun, spent time at two major law firms, and worked in both the Office of Legal Counsel and the White House Counsel's Office. Perhaps most importantly, if appointed, Oetken would become the first openly gay man to sit on the federal bench. (A nominee to the Federal Circuit, Edward Dumont, is also openly gay; a judge on the Southern District, Deborah Batts, is currently the only openly gay female on the federal bench.)

    A few days later, the President nominated Arvo Mikkanen to a seat on the Northern District of Oklahoma. Like Oetken, Mikkanen certainly has the qualifications to be a federal judge: a Dartmouth College and Yale Law ('86) grad, Mikkanen himself clerked for two judges, has worked in both private practice and as an Assistant US Attorney, and is a former judge on numerous American Indian courts. If appointed, Mikkanen would become only the third Native American to ever sit on the federal bench. One of those judges, Frank Howell Seay of the Eastern District of Oklahoma, didn't even learn of his Native American heritage until he was in his 50s.

    See the rest of Bressman's post here.