On Feb. 2, President Barack Obama nominated Arvo Mikkanen to become a federal judge in Tulsa. On Saturday, the U.S. Senate sent the nomination back to the president. In between, we heard little to nothing from the men most responsible for the nomination getting spiked.
Oklahoma Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, and Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, opposed Mikkanen's nomination from the outset. The support of homestate senators is crucial to the process, and Inhofe and Coburn never got behind Mikkanen.
The mystery is why. Coburn said Mikkanen was unacceptable, but didn't offer more than that. At one point Inhofe told the Tulsa World he was uncomfortable with Mikkanen's background, but didn't elaborate. Both senators did complain that they weren't given the usual courtesy of being consulted about Mikkanen's nomination before it was announced.
Mikkanen, of Norman, has spent 16 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Oklahoma City. The American Bar Association committee that considered his nomination unanimously deemed him qualified to be a federal judge. A member of the Kiowa Tribe, Mikkanen is well versed in Indian-related legal issues.
Note: Mikkanen's background is similar to that of federal appeals court Judge Jerome Holmes, whose 2006 nomination to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was backed heartily by Coburn and Inhofe. Holmes had no experience as a judge at the time he was nominated. Mikkanen does, having sat on Interior Department courts for tribes that don't have their own judiciary.
Though not politically active, Mikkanen is a registered Democrat. Did that matter? The Senate on Saturday approved the appointment of former Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Carson to be the U.S. Army's top lawyer. That appointment was backed by Inhofe, who sparred frequently with Carson when both were in Washington.
The Mikkanen case is a mystery that only Inhofe and Coburn can solve.