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'Nobody Nobody Sent', Abner Mikva Dead At Age 90

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago's original "nobody nobody sent," Democratic icon Abner Mikva has died, after a career spanning all three branches of federal government.

While in law school in 1948, Mikva was trying to volunteer for Adlai Stevenson's bid for the governor's office, but when he told a cigar-chomping ward committeeman no one had sent him, he was turned away with the infamous phrase "We don't want nobody nobody sent." Mikva has said that moment launched his political career, starting as a state legislator, and rising to Congress, the federal bench, and eventually a White House advisor.

Mikva, who also was a political mentor to President Barack Obama, died Monday at age 90. The president mourned Mikva's passing, noting when he was a federal judge in 1993, he ruled the ban on gay serving in the military to be unconstitutional:

"No matter how far we go in life, we owe a profound debt of gratitude to those who gave us those first, firm pushes at the start. For me, one of those people was Ab Mikva. When I was graduating law school, Ab encouraged me to pursue public service. He saw something in me that I didn't yet see in myself, but I know why he did it—Ab represented the best of public service himself and he believed in empowering the next generation of young people to shape our country. Ab's life was a testament to that truth. Six decades ago, when he first tried to volunteer in Democratic politics, the Chicago political machine told him that they 'don't want nobody nobody sent.' Ab didn't take no for an answer because he knew that in America, in our democracy, everybody can be somebody—everybody matters.

"That conviction led Ab—a son of immigrants and a World War II veteran—to serve Illinois as a state legislator and serve our nation in every branch of government—as a congressman, federal judge, and White House counsel. In every position he held, Ab's integrity and wisdom consistently put him on the right side of history, from fighting against prejudice and discrimination and for free speech and civil liberties. He reformed Illinois's criminal code, defended consumers' rights, and although his decision striking down the ban on gay Americans serving in our military was overturned, history proved him right.

"Like so many admirers, I've lost a mentor and a friend. But as we mourn his passing, I'm comforted by the thought that countless Americans will continue fighting for progressive causes Ab believed in because he pushed them toward public service, both during his time in government and through Mikva Challenge, which he established with his wonderful wife, Zoe. We're all better off because we were sent Ab Mikva, and because Ab in turn sent us forward to do big things. Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to Zoe, their three daughters, seven grandchildren, and the generations of young patriots Ab inspired. May his memory be for a blessing."

A graduate of the University of Chicago law school, Mikva was elected a state representative in 1956 at age 30, serving five terms in Springfield. He was later elected to Congress, and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1969 to 1973, and from 1975 to 1979.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed him as a federal appellate court judge, and he served on the bench until 1994, when he resigned to serve as White House counsel for President Bill Clinton. He resigned in 1995, and returned to the University of Chicago law school, serving as a mentor to a young Barack Obama, who would begin his political career two years later.

After returning to Chicago, Mikva and his wife also founded the Mikva Challenge Foundation, non-profit which encourages youth to participate in elections and other civic activities. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2014.

"It is something you can't even aspire to get, you are just very lucky if you get it," Mikva said of the honor.


Author and longtime friend Sandy Horwitt said, through it all, Mikva was both fun-loving and feisty.

"The feistiness was also related to real, genuine anger he had about injustices; and, up until the very last weeks of his life, he was still angry about all of the right things – the terrible American tragedy of gun violence," he said.

Horwitt said Mikva was fighting for tougher gun laws in the 1970s, and the National Rifle Association unsuccessfully lobbied against him becoming a federal judge.

Mikva is survived by his wife, Zoe; his three daughters, Mary, Laurie and Rachel; their husbands Steven Cohen, James Pfander, and Mark Rosenberg; and seven grandchildren: Rebecca and Jordan Cohen; Sarah, Samantha and Benjamin Pfander; Jacob and Keren Mikva Rosenberg.

His funeral and burial will be private, but a public memorial will be held in early August, according to the Mikva Challenge.

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