Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient – Abner Mikva

Abner Mikva:
I started out in the State Legislature,
I was 29 years old when I was elected to the Illinois Legislature. This was the
first thing that President Obama
and I had in common. When he came back to
Chicago, we were both
teaching at the university and we
were comparing notes on what it was like for him
to be a state senator, as when I had been a
State Representative. I did five terms in the State
Legislature without parole, and then I went to the
Congress, this was 1968. And I served five terms here,
and President Carter appointed me a
federal judge. And I got to know
President Obama when he was just graduating from
Harvard, and I wanted to hire him as one
of my law clerks. And he sent word back that he
was going back to Chicago and getting into politics. Well I didn’t know that he
had ever had any background in Chicago, and I thought,
“Boy, he’s in for a lesson.” You don’t just plant your flag
in Chicago and say, “here I am.” But when I came back
to Chicago to teach, he was teaching at the
University of Chicago and he was already
a state senator. One of my decisions that the
President has referred to was a case in which I said
that the Naval Academy could not throw out somebody
who was homosexual solely because he admitted
that he was homosexual. They never accused
him of any conduct. He had been first in his
class, a real marvelous cadet, and they threw him out in his
senior year and stripped away all his achievements and
refused to graduate him. And I held that the Navy
couldn’t do that to him. Unfortunately, this was
1994 and the Navy and the court above me
disagreed, and they never did give him his commission
or his graduation. I think the best advice I
received as I had been in my first term as a
legislator, they were two year terms, and I was running
again and I was sure that the party would
not endorse me, because I was
considered a maverick, and I mentioned it to one of
the city officials in Chicago. And he said, “Listen. The best thing you can do
is forget about reelections. Just think about how much you
are enjoying where you are, and if you lose
you can go back to making a lot of money
in practicing law. But don’t ever, ever worry
about getting reelected.” And that was good advice.

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