Okla. Senator Obstructs another Obama Judicial Selection

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 newsOK.com 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 JudicialNominations.org.