WASHINGTON — Faced with unrelenting — and mostly unexplained — opposition from Oklahoma's senators, the U.S. Senate on Saturday sent back to the White House the nomination of Arvo Mikkanen to be a federal judge in Tulsa.
Mikkanen, a highly-praised prosecutor in Oklahoma City, never got a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee because of opposition from Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, and Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa.
If he had been confirmed, Mikkanen would have been the only enrolled member of an American Indian tribe on the federal bench.
Mikkanen was nominated by President Barack Obama in February to be a U.S. district judge in Tulsa. The American Bar Association gave him a unanimous rating of qualified, a step below the highest rating of well qualified.
A member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma and president of the Oklahoma Indian Bar Association, Mikkanen has handled criminal and civil cases in his 16 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Oklahoma City. And he has extensive legal experience in Indian Country, serving on U.S. Interior Department courts for tribes that don't have their own judiciary.
Coburn and Inhofe complained that they weren't consulted about Mikkanen's nomination before it was announced, but they never publicly offered any other explanation for opposing him. Coburn also called Mikkanen “unacceptable” but wouldn't elaborate.
By Senate tradition, home state senators effectively give the Senate Judiciary Committee the go-ahead to hold a hearing on a judicial nominee. Coburn and Inhofe wouldn't do that for Mikkanen.
Mikkanen was one of eight judicial nominees returned to the White House on Saturday, without debate, as the Senate