Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
WASHINGTON - Assistant US Attorney Arvo Mikkanen, an enrolled tribal member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, was nominated by President Obama in February to be US District Judge for the Northern District of Oklahoma, which includes Tulsa.
Mikkanen has a distinguished legal career and has served as Assistant US Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma since 1994. Prior to becoming part of the US Attorney Office, he was an associate attorney and litigator with the Andrews Davis law firm in Oklahoma City. Additionally, from 1988 to 1994, Mikkanen served in various judgeships for several Oklahoma American Indian tribes, including Chief Justice of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Supreme Court from 1991 to 1994.
Former Democratic Governor Brad Henry recommended Mikkanen for the federal bench to the White House. At the time, the National Congress of American Indians called for a fast confirmation of Mikkanen.
"He is an excellent choice for the Federal District Court," said Jefferson Keel, president of the nation's oldest American Indian organization after February's nomination.
Soon thereafter, Senator Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, and Senator Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, blocked any action on the nomination. Senator Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, called unacceptable for the job, but declines to talk about it.
Senator Coburn has shot down the impending nomination of the dean of the University of Tulsa law school for the vacant seat on the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals, two Oklahoma newspapers reported yesterday.
According to news reports, with Coburn holding President Obama's nominations, federal vacancies are expected through the 2012 US presidential election, with earliest possible filling of the vacancies to be mid-2013.
Currently, there are 875 federal judgeships and with the US Senate's confirmation, Mikkanen would have become the only American Indian to sit on the federal bench. He would have been only the third American Indian to serve. The other two were; Frank Seay, nominated by President Carter in 1979, and Billy Burrage, nominated by President Clinton.
"Mikkanen is a well-educated, experienced, popular, Native American federal prosecutor in Oklahoma City who is eminently qualified for a spot on the bench," writes Andrew Cohen, who was the chief legal analyst for CBS News, in "The Atlantic" last month.
One has to wonder, the power of one US senator to block nominations. One has to wonder about the gross disservice Senator Coburn is doing to his home state of Oklahoma by playing politics that leaves such long vacancies to federal judgeships.
Senator Coburn needs to let the vetting and nomination process play out in the case of Arvo Mikkanen's nomination. If he is not worthy to sit on the federal bench, let the process be the determining factor.
With the ever growing influence of the American Indian vote in Oklahoma, their vote should determine Coburn's fate when he faces reelection.
Senator Coburn needs to stop playing politics.
posted September 13, 2011 10:57 am edt
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