INTERVIEW NO. 1
The first tape on Tl;lvi:sday, May 23, 1996, of the Oral History of Judge Abner J. Mikva as
part of the Oral History Project of the D.C. Circuit Historical Society. We, the Judge and I,
Stephen J. Pollak, are at Judge Mikva’s home on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The tape and
transcripts made from the tape are confidential and governed by the wishes of the Judge, which
ultimately will be made in the form of a written donative instrument.
Mr. Pollak: What about starting with the date and place of your birth and what that was
Judge Mikva: I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, January 21, 1926. My parents were
both immigrants. They had come from two small towns in the Ukraine near a town called L’vov,
depending on whether it was Polish owned or free, or subsequent Communist Russia owned;
now it’s called Lviv. They came from two little towns about 30 kilometers from Lviv, and that’s
where my grandparents came from too. My father came over in about 1914 or 1915; he was one
step ahead of the Czarist Army and was 19. I have had the great experience of going to the
Archives and seeing the ship’s manifest which recorded that he came over. It said “Gershon
Mikva, age 19, laborer, $10.00,” which was the amount of money he had in his possession. My
mother came over with her parents later on. They married in this country. My father was about
31 or 32 when I was born, and my mother was a couple of years younger. So he was born in
Mr. Pollak: Were you their first child?
Judge Mikva: I was their second child. My sister, who was almost eight years older, was
also born in Milwaukee. She was a great influence on raising me. First of all she spoke
marvelous Yiddish For the first seven years of her life she really didn’t speak any English
Yiddish was the language of the house. My grandparents spoke only that. My father learned
English though he had an accent, but my mother always had trouble and she spoke it not well, did
not read it at all. My sister. was raised speaking only Yiddish and had some trouble in school
learning English The result was she was my great translator as well as my great teacher as I
grew up and if I didn’t understand something my parents had said in Yiddish, she explained it to
Mr. Pollak: What was her name?
Judge Mikva: Rose, a wonderful sister. She was just enough older than I was that we
never had the normal sibling rivalry. She was always proud of my accomplishments, always
encouraging me, always defending me against my parents. Just a great relationship. She was
very fond of me throughout my life. My father’s initial business as I said was a laborer. I don’t
know what that meant exactly. His first job was in a hospital.
Mr. Pollak: You were saying that your father’s first job was in a hospital?
Judge Mikva: Yes, I don’t know exactly what he was doing. I think his first settling place
was in Minnesota. My father came to this country twice. He came the first time and landed in
Galveston and went back to Russia, I’m not quite sure why – it’s always very confusing to me –
and then he came to New York and landed at Ellis Island. One of those times, I think the first
time, he ended up spending a little time in Minnesota, working in the hospital. Then the next
time he came to Milwaukee. Immigrant society in those days operated on what they called the
‘1andsleit” – land people – people who came from the area that you came from and whose
families knew each other. So my parents ended up in Milwaukee because they had “lantsleit”
from their little towns in Ukraine who went to Milwaukee, and they welcomed them when they
came to Milwaukee. In Milwaukee, my father did several things and finally ended up being an
insurance agent for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, which was the last steady job I
remember him having. I w? _very small in 1930 or ’31 when he was fired. The insurance
company was downsizing, starting the depression, and, of course I was four or five years old, I
remember what a culture shock and traumatic experience that was for me when my father was
fired. It devastated the household. I was so un-understanding of what that meant that I really
thought they had taken a match and put it to my father and fired him I would say that, ever since
the notion of trying to protect people’s employment has been very important to me. For most
people, nothing is more important than a job. In all this talk about welfare, in my mind the best
kind of welfare reform would be to say to everybody that you will be able to get ajob if you want
one and even if you don’t want one we are going to give you one or find one for you – as a
condition of getting welfare. This idea of throwing people out on the market place and saying to
them “starve” – I’ve never been able to be comfortable with this idea of looking at the
unemployment rate and saying well if it gets any lower, it’s going to be inflationary. There’s
something wrong with our economic system that we cannot, in a country that boasts of the work
ethic, be proud of getting as close to a zero unemployment rate.
Anyway, from 1931 on we were imperiled economically. I think the next time my father
got a job after losing that one at the insurance company was a WPAjob in 1936 and 1937. Five
Mr. Pollak: So there were five years in which he didn’t have a steady job?
Judge Mikva: Yes. I think he got some help from my mother’s family, but other than that
he may have done occasional work of some kind. He may have even been an insurance broker
on his own, but I don’t remember that. I do know we were on welfare, we were on relief. It was
very painful. Milwaukee, socialist town that it was, did not look kindly on people who did not
work and so it was not mac;l? _easy. We got no cash Everything was in-kind. The authorities
paid the rent and the people who owned our house – the Newton Minow family – he and I were
friends in school and I was very embarrassed that he knew and bis parents knew that we were on
relief. Our books were stamped “Property of the Milwaukee County Outdoor Relief Society,” so
I would never leave my books lying loose in school because I didn’t want the kids to know. But
there were other ways to tell. We had all our clothing from relief. Everyone knew that if you
wore a black wool cap and these big black shoes that they were relief shoes and a relief cap. We
had to pick up food in a wagon, and I would go help my father pick it up a few blocks from the
house and my mother would give us a cloth to cover the wagon. My mother would throw out the
lard and the bacon because while she didn’t keep a completely kosher house, lard and bacon were
not staples of our household. I kept thinking as I grew older how sad it was that we really never
did have enough food in the house and always good staples were being thrown out. The
authorities did not take into account that some of the recipients were Jewish That was probably
the most searing experience of my growing up. Feeling that we were outcasts because we were
so poor. I remember the excitement when my father got this WP A job. I don’t remember what
he was doing. He didn’t know how to type. I think they gave him a job typing anyway, and I
seem to remember that it had something to do with scripts for the WP A Theater. I’m sure it was
hunt and peck because he didn’t know how to type. But it was very exciting that he finally had a
job again. Every month or week there was a paycheck.
Mr. Pollak: Your mother during these years did not work?
Judge Mikva: Mother did not work until very much later, after the war, when she was
about 60 or so and moved out to California, and she very timidly applied for her first factory job
and got one and how excit?? _she was at the idea of working. In those years women just didn’t
work and there weren’t that many jobs for women. It’s interesting, Milwaukee had a socialist
mayor during all those years and in many respects it was a very progressive town, but it sure did
not treat kindly its old people or its women. My father took me to a Milwaukee County Poor
Farm, that was the name. As I remember I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old. It
looked like what I later saw in many mental institutions. It had this high spiked fence all around
it, and I saw all these people wandering around aimlessly inside. Their only sin was they were
too old to work and they didn’t have enough money to pay for themselves. That was Milwaukee’s
answer to poverty.
Mr. Pollak: Were you aware in the household oflarger concerns besides the economic
concerns, politics, for example?
Judge Mikva: My father came over as somewhat of a radical. I suppose in Russia he
would have been a social democrat. I know that he thought that the socialist mayor we had sold
out to the bosses.
That’s what the Jewish activists thought of the socialists in those days. There was
competition between two Jewish newspapers. One was the Forward, Forvetz, which my father
wouldn’t read because it was too right wing. ”It had sold out.” My grandfather read the Forvetz;
in fact, I was his designated reader. When his eyes got too bad, I would read it to him
My father instead subscnbed to a paper called Freiheit, Freedom, which was a left-wing
semi-communist alternative to the Forward. Of course, both of them went out of existence as
far as Jewish papers are concerned; but the Forward is now published as a weekly English
paper and still claims its socialist origins. Its editorial page looks more neo-con than it does
socialist. But as a result, tli??e was some awareness and political involvement in the family but
very unorthodox because again Milwaukee had a socialist mayor all those years. We had May
Day parades. Occasionally my father would march in the May Day parade but would always find
some particularly left wing organization to march with so as not to be too identified with those
right wing socialists. It was an interesting dichotomy to see the socialist mayor, who probably
was the most honest politician of this era anywhere in the country. When he died they had to put
his wife on some kind of a stipend to keep her from going to the poor farm because he never
made more than $5,000 a year. It was interesting to see all these conservative German burghers
vote for Dan Roan because he gave an honest, efficient government whether he was a socialist,
so what. He didn’t talce it too seriously and neither did they. Milwaukee ran pretty efficiently.
Mr. Pollalc: In your young years, did you live mostly a Jewish life with Jewish family?
Judge Mikva: Yes, but my father as part of his radicalism had rejected the religion. He
had become convinced that religion was indeed the opiate of the masses and so I was not allowed
to engage in any religious activities. He was partly traumatized because we had belonged to a
temple on the east side of Milwaukee while he was working. In fact, my sister had gone to
Sunday school there for several years. When he lost his job and couldn’t pay his dues anymore,
in those days they didn’t make any allowance for poverty, they just threw us out of the temple, so
that just confirmed my father’s suspicions that religion was an opiate of the masses. So, I was
never encouraged, in fact I was strongly discouraged, from having any kind of religious training.
I was never bar mitzvahed. :My grandfather would occasionally snealc me in to temple on high
holy days. My mother would go to great lengths to keep my father from knowing about it.
My father decided that he wanted me to learn about the Yiddish culture, but not religion.
There were Talmud Tor?,. tp.e after school “cheders,” that Jewish kids go to prepare for their
bar mitzvah. They would go every day for an hour or an hour and a half, and they would learn
Yiddish and Jewish culture and prepare for their bar mitzvah in Hebrew. We had one on 49th
and Center. My father enrolled me – my grandfather paid for it I’m sure – but with the
understanding I was not to learn Hebrew; I was just to go there for the Yiddish and Jewish
culture. That was always the first part of the session and when the session turned to Hebrew, I
was instructed to get up and walk out. I remember walking out and having Mr. Garfinkel yell
after me, “Abner, come sit down, don’t listen to that ”mashuggena” father of yours.” I knew
where the power was and I kept walking. So I never was bar mitzvahed and I never did learn
Hebrew. My daughter is a rabbi and she teases me that I can’t follow the prayer book. So,
Judaism was not much of a force. My mother did not keep a kosher house, but certain foods she
wouldn’t allow in. We kept a second set of dishes for my grandfather. My grandfather lived in a
little small town in Wisconsin called Omro and he would come in for Passover and the high holy
days and he would stay with us usually because my mother was the eldest child and my
grandfather and grandmother didn’t get along at all and so he wouldn’t stay at her house. When
he would stay with us and have a meal with us, we would haul out the Passover dishes, which my
father would snort at, the idea that we would keep a separate set of dishes just for my
grandfather. My grandfather knew that the house wasn’t kosher and there wasn’t much separation
kept between milk dishes and meat dishes, which every kosher house has to do; but he wanted to
see his grandchildren and the best meal he was going to have all year were meals that he had in
Milwaukee. In Omro he had to cook for himself, and so he ate only milk dishes.
Mr. Pollak: Your mother’s father and your mother’s mother were separated or divorced?
Judge Mikva: They .?ere separated. It’s just a story that I found out when I was grown
and both my grandparents had died. My cousins had done some genealogical work on our
family. They told me that my grandfather had come over first. He had left my mother and his
wife and several other children back in the old country. My grandfather was a younger man, in
his twenties or his early thirties, and he saved enough money to bring over the rest of the family;
but while he saved up, he was young and the hormones flowed. He took up with a woman, but
still saved his money to bring my grandmother, my mother and my aunts over. My grandmother
came over and found out that he’d been living with this woman and she threw him out of the
house. That led to the separation. He occasionally would stay there but they would never really
talk to each other. Whenever he would come and stay at her house, she would throw things
around. It was an unpardonable sin. So he lived in a small town, Omro, Wisconsin, with 1200
people and he ran the junkyard up there. I must say that during the early years of my life, I
thought his name was ”Max the Jew,” because that’s what everybody had called him They didn’t
do it with hostility, but he was the only Jew they had ever known. He was just Max the Jew. I
remember the first time I said that to my mother, she got very upset and she said, “How can you,
that’s your grandfather, call him Max the Jew!” “But that’s what everybody in Omro calls him”
She tried to explain to me that that was not nice.
Mr. Pollak: Was there anti-Semitism in your youth?
Judge Mikva: Yes, but the normal kind. Normal for its time. In the neighborhood, there
were a fair number of Jewish kids so I wasn’t totally isolated. We were a minority. But I
remember being called a kike a couple of times and being called “Abe, Abe, Abe, hey big nose,
hey big nose.” I can hardly say it was painful because there wasn’t that much of it, but it was
uncomfortable. I still find ?t. ?ifficult to hear anybody call me Abe. My mother went to great
lengths to find a name in the Old Testament and she thought it translated differently than
Abraham My Hebrew name is Avram, it’s from my ancestor whose name is Avram But she
thought Avram translated into Abner, and so that was the name I was given. Actually in the Old
Testament Avner was a General in David’s army. I still have complications in a religious setting
or a Hebrew setting, people say your name is Abner, then your Hebrew name is Avner, and I say
no, it’s Avram But, as a result, if anybody calls me Abe, I still have to correct them and say no,
my name is Ab, Abner.
Mr. Pollak: What are your early school memories?
Judge Mikva: Public school? Kindergarten and the first couple of grades I enjoyed
thoroughly. It was on the west side of Milwaukee. It was interesting. I remember it being
pleasant. I remember somebody who I lost track of, I am convinced, he is convinced, it turned
out to be a man by the name of Phil Burton. We ended up as colleagues in the Congress from
California. He went to the same grade school I did and actually ended up in the same high school
I did. I think I lost track ofhnn when we moved from the west side to the north side. One of the
many problems of being on relief was when we would fall behind, well I guess the same thing
happened before we went on relief, we didn’t pay the rent. In any event, when you would fall
behind in the rent, the way to solve that problem was to move and find a new trusting landlord.
So we moved from the west side in Milwaukee to the north side, and it was a painful move for
me because I didn’t like the school I went to. I think I only went to the north side school for a
year or so and then I commuted back to the west side, but I had broken continuity and I wasn’t
there for after school. It just colored my views on busing later on. I realized that even though it
was hailed as this great solution for our segregation problems, busing children at a tender age is
not a great idea. Kids like to be able to play in the neighborhoods where they live, and the idea
of being bused to the other side of town – in that case by taking public transportation to the other
side of town – was very unsatisfactory. Because of the time I had to leave to get home, I never
did get the friendships that I had the first year, so from about the second or third grade on all the
way through junior high school and high school, I remember school being very unpleasant.
Mr. Pollak: Did you ever have a busing case come before you on the D.C. Circuit?
Judge Mikva: I think we had the aftermath of some of them We had some of the threejudge
cases. I think on one occasion I was designated to sit on a three-judge case on busing for
one of the southern states. None of the main line cases, however. By the time I got in the court,
the big Skelly Wright controversies were already over.
Mr. Pollak: And Hobson v. Hansen- was that complex of cases gone?
Judge Mikva: Yes, gone.
Mr. Pollak: Well, maybe it will come up at a later point, but it raises an interesting issue
when someone who later becomes a judge candidly says, well my early experience with public
transportation to a school colored in my feelings about busing and later you meet the issue as a
judge and that’s an underlying framework against which the arguments throw themselves.
Judge Mikva: I recognized early on in my judicial experience, when I got on the court
and had time to reflect on why I had come out the way I did and why my intuitions and my
instincts would move me to one side of a case or another, that no judge, and certainly no judge
who has been involved at all in public affairs, comes on to the Court as a tabula rasa, Justice
Rehnquist once used that term We’re all conditioned and colored by our experiences, and
frequently those early cbilqq.qod experiences are the most important.
I remember Justice Scalia and I once compared notes on that and realized that both of us
had been affected by things that had happened to us early in our lives. This becomes almost a
given, not a rational, scientifically derived given, but something that’s just part of you, and it
comes out as you react to cases. Would I uphold busing decrees? I think I did. I’m sure I would.
But not without some angst about the consequences of ordering kids to get on a bus to go to the
other side of town.
Mr. Pollak: Obviously, if school was not a pleasant experience for you, you must have
had an aptitude for it?
Judge Mikva: I did. I did very well. In fact, I used to think that that was part of my
problem was that I did well and didn’t know how to handle doing well. You know, some kids
can excel and be nonchalant about it. I obviously must have had a braggadocio about me. I
never felt very secure about who I was and what I was or that I was keeping up with my peers,
but clearly I very much remember people resenting that I did well.
Mr. Pollak: People being other students?
Judge Mikva: Other peers. And most of the teachers weren’t that aware. In class they
had nothing to worry about as long as I wasn’t making a lot of trouble. There were a few
teachers, there were one or two who sort of sided with the students. They sort of sensed that I
was not a lot of fun to be with and that didn’t help. There were one or two that were sensitive to
the fact that I was very unhappy and not comfortable with my peers, and they tried to help. I
remember once – and this must have been in the sixth or seventh grade, seventh grade – the class
was electing somebody to write the class play. They were nominating various people and, of
course, I was not nominat?q. The teacher exploded and she said, “Abner is the best writer in the
class. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves not nominating rum” Well, of course, then
somebody nominated me and I was elected to be on the committee. But I just felt miserable that
I wasn’t put there on the merits.
Mr. Pollak: Do you recall teachers that had a significant influence on your later being?
Judge Mikva: I do. I had one teacher, I think it was Ellen Hargrove. In junior high
school – seventh, eighth, and ninth grade – we had a teacher for what today we would call
humanities. It was English and composition and all of the reading and all of the things that go
into the humanities courses, and she was great. I had her for three years and she was the primary
teacher that I recall during the period. She understood that I was a very unhappy, lonely kid and
really went out of her way to try to encourage me. I think if anybody gave me the beginnings of
self confidence, it was she. She praised me about my writing. Her notes on my themes were
very flattering. She would write more and she would give me books to read and she really had a
good influence. Then there was a high school English teacher, Edna Goeden. I remember her
name because just a few years ago, the Washington High School, which was my high school, had
a program where they invited back alumni to honor special teachers and Edna Goeden was one of
the nominees who was honored and they asked would I come back and give her the citation,
which I did. It was very exciting. She was then the closest thing to a contemporary that we had
in high school. She was about six or seven years older then we were, and I remember that while
we were still in high school, the war broke out and she volunteered to become a member of the
Womens Army Corps – the WACS they were called – and left school. English was my forte. I
loved writing and I loved reading and I loved drama and it was just, as far as I was concerned, all
the rest of the courses wer?. ¢ings you had to do, but I liked to do English One of my original
career aspirations was to be a writer.
Mr. Pollak: It’s interesting that in the early childhood experience you characterize
yourself as sort of not fitting in with your peers and unhappy. It certainly must be a characteristic
of your later life that you fit in with all kinds of people and that you were really quite a happy
person. What changed all of that?
Judge Mikva: Well, I think that part of it is what I used to tease the President not too
long ago. I think that he and I have some similarities in that we came from dysfunctional homes,
though his childhood as he describes it was a bit happier than mine, but clearly there’s this strong
desire to be liked, to try to accommodate to other people and adjust to other people and you learn
certain behavioral traits. I remember – this was happening when I started practicing law – that I
had a client, a young client, my contemporary, who just always smiled. Somebody could say
terrible things to him and he’d just smile. I thought what a marvelous quality to have to just not
let anybody get your goat that badly that you grow 1 at them or glare at them, you just smile. It
wasn’t a simpy smile, it was just that he would smile at people. I think that out of those
experiences, I became very aware of the need for social graces in this society. I don’t think I ever
particularly aspired to running for public office. Obviously, when I did start doing it, that made
me more aware of how important it is to get along with people and not let personal animosities
litter your life. I think that’s one of the President’s great strengths and one of his failings.
Mr. Pollak: Ab, you mentioned that you had a dysfunctional home.
Judge Mikva: Yes. My parents did not get along at all. In addition to economic
problems, they were at each other’s throats literally, my father was physically abusive. It was just
very troublesome and they_?t1:1yed together “for the children’s sake.” I’m not sure that they did my
sister and me any great favors.
Mr. Pollak: Did they part after you grew up?
Judge Mikva: Sort of. When we grew up and I went off to the service, they moved out to
California and lived with my sister and her husband in side-by-side row houses. They lived
together as much as they ever lived together and then my mother got sick first, but they got sick
about the same time. Then they were in different treatment institutions.
Mr. Pollak: Did they both have significant influences on your life? Were you partial to
one or the other?
Judge Mikva: I felt sorry for my mother. I didn’t have much respect for her putting up
with it, but I felt sorry for her that she was being abused. I never felt myself being particularly
close to my parents. I realized as I grew up, I have thought about it since, that they did have an
influence on me. I always thought I got my competitive edge from my father, but I was more
successful in channeling it than he was. But clearly he did think about a broader milieu than just
his house. They frequently would not talk to each other. I guess that was one of the things I
remember most. And that too was something that influenced me when I got on the court. They
would frequently get angry at each other and not talk to each other and they would use me and
my sister as conduits. Tell her “dadadadada” Tell him “dadadadada.” And that used to remind
me of what it must have looked like to the lawyers when we sat en bane because the judges –
they were usually important controversies or other high-profile cases – and some judges had
strong views about it. Well they couldn’t argue with each other on the bench and so, of course,
there’s poor Steve Pollak up there trying to argue bis case but Judge X says, but Mr. Pollak, isn’t
it a fact that; and before Mr: Pollak can even begin to answer, Judge Y at the other end of the
bench says yes, but Mr. Pollak, isn’t it a fact that “dadada.” And poor Mr. Pollak stands there
because he has no role to play except to be the conduit. I always trunk of my parents as using me
as a conduit in those situations.
Mr. Pollak: What about your early reading, any books you can think of that had an
influence on you?
Judge Mik:va: I read a lot. I remember reading early. My sister taught me how to read
before I went to school, and I was always considered a fast reader, and my escape from my
unhappiness in school was to read. The public library was close by, and it was accessible, and I
would read five or six books a week. One of my proudest possessions one summer was an award
of a paper mache? bookworm for people who read thirty books during the summer. I won it
hands down. Mine was a very eclectic kind of taste though I remember reading a lot of
adventure stories. A lot of travel stories. But the single most influential set of books that I
remember was a series of boys books called Tahara. There were four books. Tahara, Boy King
of the Desert, Tahara in the Land of Yucatan, I forget the other books. Three of the places that I
have visited since – I felt anxious to visit them in part because I remember reading about them –
were Yucatan and the deserts of Egypt and the Middle East and India, which we just went to. It
was just a couple of years ago, and I still remember the descriptions of those countries in the
Tahara books. Other than that, I started reading biography, but I trunk that was by the time I got
into junior high school or high school.
Mr. Pollak: Did you do any traveling or stay there in Milwaukee?
Judge Mikva: I think we went to Chicago once. I think the only other time I left
Milwaukee was when I weJJ;t to enlist in the Anny.
Mr. Pollak: By which time you were 18?
Judge Mikva: Right. I take that back. I went up to Madison a couple of times. And then
we would go to Omro.
Mr. Pollak: To see your grandfather?
Judge Mikva: I’d drive him around when I got old enough to drive. Before then, I would
ride in the truck with him. I would go around the countryside, around Omro and Oskosh and all
the way up to Ripon and Fond du Lac and that area, because he would buy junk in that whole region.
Central Wisconsin. I never left Wisconsin except that one visit to see relatives in Chicago.
Mr. Pollak: Were the family finances such that vacation time was essentially just nonschool
time? There were no holidays?
Judge Mikva: The big vacation events that I remember were that we would occasionally
take a Sunday and drive up to visit some friends in Oconomowoc or Peewaukee – little towns
with lakes near Milwaukee about 30 miles away. We used to go quite regularly because my
parents had some friends that lived in a cottage up there.
Mr. Pollak: Wisconsin, at least outside of Milwaukee, is a very, was then, a very farming
state. Did you come in contact with either the farming or the wilderness aspects of the state?
Judge Mikva: When I would go visit my grandfather, because he lived in this little town
which was really a farm town, I would meet some of the neighboring families up there. I
remember that we would walk across the street and fish in the Fox River. That was fun just
walking across the street and pulling out a fishing pole and fishing or walking up to the creamery
to get fresh milk that had just been pasteurized. When I started driving around with him, I would
go to the farm families wh?:i;-e_ he would pick up newspapers and rags and other things that were
for his junk business. I got to know something about farmers. I always had a feeling they were,
at least in Wisconsin, a fiercely independent kind of people. They prided themselves on their
ability to be self-sufficient, and they wanted as little to do with government and the community
and other people as possible. They would drive into town once a week to pick up their groceries;
but most of them would brag about how much of their stuff they could raise on their own farm,
raising their own vegetables, their own milk, and everything else. This was a source of great
accomplishment for them It would be interesting, I’ve never looked, but I would wonder how
many of these militia from today have antecedents in that farm life of 50 years ago, 60 years ago,
where the idea of being self-sufficient and having no relationship to government was prevalent.
Mr. Pollak: Why don’t you say something about high school?
Judge Mikva: High school was when things started to change for me. First of all, I did
develop some friends. I started up with a couple of them in junior high school but then became
good friends in high school and the circle widened a little bit. I began to develop a little self
confidence. Still, the key things in high school, my high school, were sports and girls. I wasn’t
very good at either of those. I didn’t know how to dance, or didn’t know how to dance very well,
and I didn’t dress well. That was an important measuring stick of how poised you were, how
“cool” you were, to dress well. One, I didn’t have the money for clothes and, two, I didn’t have
very good taste in clothes. I still don’t, I think. I remember my first reason for getting a job was
to go out and buy some clothes and at least think I looked like the other kids in high school. But
in other ways I began to feel a little bit more comfortable with myself. First of all, I think doing
well in school became a little less objectionable. I began to handle it a little better. There were
some recognitions of some: 9f the scholastic things that I did, like the honor society and the honor
roll and the newspaper. I was on the school newspaper and ended up as editor-in-chief of the
school newspaper. That was somewhat reflective of my less-than-secure standing with my peers.
The teacher, who was a very unhappy person, was unhappy with stuff that I was doing. It was
my first electoral effort, and it was a disaster. This teacher would decide who the people would
be who would run for editor-in-chief. You worked your way up by starting as a writer. In my
first year in high school, I became an editor, and then I became managing editor in my second
year in high school. In the third year, she would decide who the four nominees would be to run
for editor-in-chief. There would be speeches before the whole school assembly and a campaign
and the school assembly would vote for who would be editor-in-chief. She decided that I would
be one of the four. We all made speeches. Four candidates, one of whom really barely had been
involved in the newspaper – I figured I could at least run ahead of him because I had some
bylines and some stories. The other two candidates I knew were formidable because one was a
woman who was very popular, very nice and very bright – she was one of the brighter students
around. Anyway, so the four of us all made our speeches. They counted the votes, and I came in
fourth The guy who I had written off made a great speech He took his name and T stands for
this and E stands for his and S stands for this. And so he came in third as a result of his speech,
but the popular woman won the editor-in-chief, which was sort of as I expected.
It was in the middle of the year, and there was still one semester left to go, and we didn’t
have special elections. The woman teacher decided who the editor-in-chief should be. She
called me in her office and said, “You know, you have done a lot of things wrong in all the time
you’ve been here, and frankly I would not have voted for you when you ran, and I’m still not sure
how good an editor you’ll ? •. but you write better than the other people on the staff, besides
which you did come in fourth and the others didn’t even run.” Two others had dropped out of the
paper altogether. “So I’m going to make you editor-in-chief, but you better do it right, the way I
tell you to.” Anyway, being editor-in-chief of the paper was exciting, interacting with the other
staff people. Newt Minow was my sports editor. It was a lot of fun.
Mr. Pollak: I’ve always thought that journalistic experience is an excellent background to
law. You get to the point, you are able to express yourself.
Judge Mikva: It really is. Also it gives you some writing experience. It gives you some
thought-marshaling experience. You learn the need for being able to plan a piece – first, let your
mind wander from thing to thing and from issue to issue and from feeling to feeling. Then you
force yourself to discipline your mind and say, okay, here are the facts, here is what I’m trying to
say, how do I say it in a way that other people can understand. I can’t think of better training for
the kind of communication skills that lawyers need.
Mr. Pollak: Was that your main extracurricular activity in high school?
Judge Mikva: Yes. I was also involved in theater. We had a system when I was in high
school: you had points you would get; you would be assigned a certain number of points for
various things you did, and you could not be involved in more than 30 points a year. Being
editor-in-chief of the paper was something like 20 to 25 points so that didn’t leave me much else,
and the one other thing I did was the Washington Players, which was theater.
Mr. Pollak: How big was your high school class?
Judge Mik:va: My graduating class was about 400.
Mr. Pollak: A pretty sizeable school. All urban?
Judge Mikva: All ‘-P:b.an. All city. It was on the west side of Milwaukee. There was not
a single black student or teacher or person anywhere. I guess I must have met a couple of blacks
when I was a child, but I don’t remember them The first black people I remember meeting was
when I went in the service.
Mr. Pollak: Were there blacks living in Milwaukee?
Judge Mikva: Yes. But they were on the other side of town, on the north side, and they
were a small number then, and they were very much ghettoized, and you just didn’t hear about
them, and there was no involvement with the rest of the community. Out in the pasture.
Mr. Pollak: Did your newspaper have editorial positions that you were involved in
Judge Mikva: No. Well, if they did, they were, “We should be for loving the flag, and
we really ought to respect our teachers.” It was namby pamby. The things I remember enjoying
the most were writing, and I used to do this one thing until I became editor-in-chief, (I think I still
did it a couple of times afterwards) was writing biographical colwnns about other students.
There would be one or two of these in each issue of the paper, showing pictures of the students
and interviewing them; and I enjoyed that. That’s why I thought being a newspaper reporter
would be a lot of fun, just going out and talking to a lot of people and finding out what they think
and have to say. The other thing I enjoyed doing was the physical layout of the newspaper, and
that I kept doing even as editor-in-chief because whoever my managing editor was or whoever
was supposed to do it didn’t quite comprehend how you lay out a sheet on a newspaper, how you
translate the typed words into what they would look like in print and how much to allow for a
headline. I used to love to do headlines because you had to allow so many places for each letter
and make sure that the heaqlip.e fit.
Mr. Pollak: What was your own direction as you moved toward the conclusion of your
high school career? I guess the World War was going on, so you probably were thinking of
service, but what were you thinking you would make of your life at that juncture?
Judge Mikva: The war broke out in December 1941. I remember, it wasn’t just that I had
discovered girls but at the end I could dance, barely, and dressed passably enough that I could at
least be involved in some matters dealing with girls. We were at a dance at one of the
synagogues on Sunday night. It was Pearl Harbor Day, and so it was 1941. I was 15 going on
16. We were walking home from the dance with one of my friends, who’s still a friend today and
lives here in Washington, and we were talking about what this meant for us. Of course, it meant
going into the service and that just put aside all the other things we used to ta1k about like being a
firemen or an airplane pilot in our early teens, preteens. We literally stopped talking about
anything after service. If you ta1ked about it, it was very vague and inconsequential. Clearly, the
next step in our life was going to be so overwhelming and so consequential that there was no
point in talking about it. There wasn’t any morbidity. I don’t think we worried about dying. No,
I don’t think we thought about that at all, with that marvelous sense of immortality that all
teenagers then had. But it’s just that the next step was so big and so important that we couldn’t
begin to worry about any inconsequential things like what we were going to do with the rest of
our lives. So we just ta1ked about the service, what branch we would go into upon graduating. I
had already made up my mind that I wanted to be a Navy aviator. That’s what I really wanted to
do. I went about it in the worst possible way. I knew nothing about it, I had never been near an
airplane, but it sounded like a lot of fun. I had never been very good in the sciences, and it never
occurred to me that there ?a? some connection between physics and aviation. I was good at
math and I had taken a lot of mathematics, but when I went to take the naval cadet examination
for admission as a naval cadet, there were about six questions on physics and I didn’t know any
of them Literally, I was astounded. Any test I had taken in the past where I didn’t know the
subject matter very well, at least I could figure it out, but these were concepts I had never heard
of. A pump and how it works and some of the other things that are involved in physics. So I
flunked the admission test for the naval cadets. I was so humiliated, so embarrassed, that I went
to the next best thing, the Army Air Corps, which had a cadet program but was not quite as elite
as the navy cadet program It had an easier examination to crack, and you got into the army cadet
program You were allowed to enlist in the army when you were 17, but you couldn’t be called to
active duty until you were 18. So, even though I had graduated from high school, I was only
17-1/2 and I had another six months; they wouldn’t take me until my 18th birthday, and so I got a
semester of college in.
Mr. Pollak: Let me ask whether you had any disposable income of your own during these
high school years. Did you have summer jobs, winter jobs?
Judge Mikva: Yes. First I worked as a newsboy in junior high school. So, I had a little
disposable income. I delivered the Milwaukee Journal. Actually, my first job was working for a
relative of my brother-in-law’s. I worked for him for 10 cents an hour, when I was about 10 or 11
years old. That was my first job and that was my first disposable income. I think it was as much
as $1 or $1.50 a week. It was very exciting. Then I got a job as a newsboy and I made about $4
or $5 a week, which was enough to give me spending money and allowed me to buy some
clothes that I otherwise wouldn’t get. And then, I think when I became 16, I was able to get a job
in a shoe store, and that w?? ?hat most of us did in high school was work in shoe stores on the
weekends – Friday and Saturday, Friday night and Saturday during the day – and then I would
make $10 or $12 or $15, giving me spending money that could buy some real clothes, suits and
sport jackets and saddle shoes. During the summer, until I was about 15, I don’t remember
working during the summer. Oh, I used to go up to the country with my grandfather occasionally
and work for him but not get paid very much I think at 16 was the first time I got a job working
for another person, going door to door selling towels made from burlap bags, and that made
money. I guess my last year in high school, I got a job. The war was already on; I got a job in
Schlitz Brewery during the summer, moving cases around. The significance of that job was that I
made $.85 an hour, which was more than my father’s pay. I made $30, $35 a week, which was
Mr. Pollak: I have two questions about it. One, were you then thinking of saving for
later needs? Two, did those jobs form your feelings about work or form your attitudes in later
Judge Mikva: Not really. The Schlitz job was kind of interesting because I liked the
camaraderie. We worked side by side with a lot of seminary students who were working there
during the summer, and I was awed by these future people of the cloth who knew how to cuss, to
tell dirty stories, and were just like the rest of us and it was great fun. The job as a newspaper
boy, what I remember about it, was that it froze me out of a lot of things that I would have
wanted to do after school.
Mr. Pollak: Oh, you were delivering an afternoon paper?
Judge Mikva: Yes. It meant I couldn’t participate in some of these extracurricular
activities like others did. I _qqn’t remember the great satisfaction of being able to save money. I
did like the idea of having some spending money and not having to be quite as careful on each
penny as I had been when I was without funds of my own. I think my work ethic, if I have one, I
think it really came from the fear of poverty.
Mr. Pollak: Should we move to this half a year of college before you went into the
service? Let me ask about your consciousness in those high school years of matters that we now
know so much about, the developing war in Europe, the Depression, the Roosevelt
Administration. How did you relate to those events? How did they form you?
Judge Mikva: The Depression was the overwhehning event of my childhood. It see1ned
that there was something so terribly wrong and unfair about subjecting this huge part of the
population to this great poverty. I remember reading Grapes of Wrath when it came out and
being outraged at what we had done to the rural poor in the Southwest but feeling equally
outraged about what we had done to the urban poor and my family in the North I was a strong
supporter of the unions, of the CIO when it first started, and of John L. Lewis and his fight for
the coal miners and learning much about it. My father kind of took a dim view of the unions
because they were all right-wing sell-outs. I just thought John L. Lewis sounded so angry and
vigorous when he would speak. And, of course, Roosevelt was, again, everybody except my
father, thought he was the best thing that ever happened to country. I remember marveling at it at
the time but then marveling at it even more as I got older: Roosevelt was hailed as this great
savior when he was elected in 1932. From 1932 until the war got hot in 1940, our conditions
didn’t change. They didn’t get any better. Welfare was more institutionalized, and the WPA did
provide jobs for some people for a while but we were still poor as dirt and the economy wasn’t
any better. Now, he did pllt ? this great underpinning of Social Security and old age assistance,
but most of us didn’t really know very much about that, it didn’t really affect us; and yet he was
hailed as the great savior of the poor. It was fascinating; I think that was the first time I realized
how much of it had to do with his persona rather than any particular accomplishments he had
achieved. Most of the New Deal legislation that we now talk about and hail didn’t do much for
the really poor in this country. It helped the working poor, and it created a safety net which has
helped a lot of people since. Social Security has transformed the country, and old age assistance
has transformed the country. But people like my father were not affected.
Mr. Pollak: What about the war?
Judge Mik:va: By that time, I was becoming a little more aware of my own Jewishness.
Partly because, in spite of my father, I did get involved in some of the social activities that the
synagogues had. We still didn’t belong to any synagogue, but I got a little bit involved; and I
belonged to a Jewish high school fraternity. It didn’t have any religious roots; but we were
already separated out, Jews and non-Jews. I wasn’t very good in athletics and certainly not good
enough to do any of the competitive stuff in high school. The Jewish organization was something
called AZA, which was affiliated with B’nai B’rith and had its own basketball league for the
Jewish kids, and I played in that. I wasn’t very good but I at least got an opportunity to play. So,
I became more aware of my Jewish identity. The stories were just beginning about the great
problems the Jews were having in Europe. But I could not believe some of these stories of excesses
that were going on like ”Kristallnacht” and some of that stuff. I didn’t know what exactly
happened. I thought that was probably somebody’s exaggerated story, just like the stories about
what the Germans did to the Belgian babies in World War I, which turned out to be a big hoax.
That was just propaganda ?gainst the Germans. And I remembered that I, while I didn’t have any
complicated views about Nazism and the Nazis, I really felt uncomfortable about the way it was
being taken out on the Germans. Milwaukee is a big German town, and I knew what they’d done
to the Germans in WWI. I recalled reading about how during World War I they’d stopped
teaching German in schools. They were forcing the German restaurants to close up. I thought
that was so stupid, and I really thought we were exaggerating the excesses that were going on.
I must recall one other incident because this has had a great influence on my attitude
about street violence. This has to be about 1937. I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. The Nazis had
a Milwaukee Bund and it had pretty wide activities throughout the state. They announced that
they were going to have a big rally in Washington Park, which was one of the parks in
Milwaukee, and there was a big whoop-de-do about whether or not they would get a permit. The
County tried to turn them down and finally the Governor, Phil LaFollette, – the Attorney General
probably told him he had to because of the First Amendment – issued them a permit and said,
yes, they could march They had this rally in the park. The left-wing organizations in
Milwaukee, with which my father was identified, announced they were going to protest at the
rally. So it was a Sunday morning and we all went out to Washington Park. The protesters were
hanging this big Nazi flag in the park. My father took me out to the park. Th.ere was this small
group of left-wingers, members of this organization, who started circling near the flag. My father
was originally supposed to be one of the ones that pulled down the flag. When they saw him
with me, I don’t know ifhe took me for that purpose or what, but anyway, they would not let him
march with them I mean the demonstrators expected trouble. So we stood on the periphery and
watched: around this whole group of demonstrators, there was a group of Nazis in their
uniforms, their Sam Brow:q. .?Its, their hip boots, and their swastikas on their arm bands, their
military hats. They formed a circle around the demonstrators, and around them was a circle of
Milwaukee police with all their uniforms, all their clubs, and it was like a little tableau. On
signal, one of the demonstrators lunged at the flag, tried to pull it down, and the Nazis pounced
on top of them and Milwaukee police pounced on top of the Nazis and shrieks and yells and
clubs going and lots of people with bloody heads and bloody noses and the police hauled them
off, several of the demonstrators and several of the Nazis, in the police vans and took them off to
jail. I still don’t know whether that was why my father took me or not, but I can still remember
the sound of those clubs cracking heads and the sight of the blood spurting out. Nobody was
killed. As riots go, it was a very mild one. But I have never been able to watch street violence
since or civil rights violence in the ’60s or the Democratic Convention in ’68 without getting this
Anyway, all of this is a lead up to the fact that when the stories started about the Nazi
atrocities against the Jews, I really thought they were exaggerated. I just really didn’t believe that
it was that kind of wholesale killings and slaughter. There were some few immigrants corning
over from Germany describing this, but nobody paid much attention. We just thought it was
exaggerated. I still remember that embarrassed, foolish feeling I had when I learned in the
service that the first Americans had captured one of the concentration camps. I don’t remember if
it was Auschwitz or one of the other camps. It was a Sunday morning; I was an aviation cadet;
we were supposed to have leave that day and go into town. It was 7:30 am, and it was a surprise
reveille and all the men had to fall out; and the loudspeaker says, “the Captain wants everybody
in the post theater at 0800.” He apparently did this on bis own; I’d love to find out the name of
this guy. He decided the tμ-st captured films were important for the troops to see, and he brought
us all in at 0800 and sat us down and put on the films. You’ve probably seen some of these clips.
I remember how embarrassed I felt that I had demeaned the capacity of the Nazis. It was a very
Mr. Pollak: Well, you went off to college. Where did you go? How did that come
Judge Mik:va: My first year of college was at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
I lived at home. I still don’t understand why. The tuition for the semester was $16, and we didn’t
have it. I had to borrow it from one of my uncles, which made my father very angry because he
didn’t like my mother’s brothers. I was uncomfortable about borrowing the money, but there was
no alternative because we literally did not have $16. Why I wasn’t able to save it I can’t explain
to you, but we didn’t. So I ended up spending the semester at the college in Milwaukee living at
home. I seem to remember it very much as a continuation of high school. It was not particularly
demanding. It wasn’t particularly structured in any way. I didn’t have my head into it. I was
thinking much more about going off to the service and was very anxious to get called up. I
remember even writing a letter to the Army aslcing to be called as quickly, as possible and my
mother saw the letter and was so upset with me that I was going to go off to war and get killed. I
was trying to encourage them to call me early to the end. Whether it was a result of the letter or
whatever reasons, I got my orders in December to appear on January 25th at Fort Sheridan in
Illinois. I went on to active duty. The only other thing I remember about that college semester
was I learned how to play pool. There was a pool hall right near the college building. The
University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee was one building. It was called the Extension at that
time, the Extension. It wa? _one building. It was right near the pool hall, and when I had free
time I would go down there, and there was a man who owned the pool hall, called “John the
Greek,” and he was tolerant of all these college students who would come in because he made
money on us. But, anyway, he taught me how to play pool, which I still love to this day. But, 18
and four days, I was down at Fort Sheridan.
Mr. Pollak: How long did you serve in the military and would you describe your service
and its meaning to you in forming who Ab Mikva became?
Judge Mikva: Well, it was my first time away from home. It was my first time out of
Wisconsin. It was my first time in many, many other respects. It was a very maturing experience
I spent 22, 23 months on active duty. I was mustered out in November of 1945, having
entered in January 1944. I went all the way through cadet school and navigation school and was
commissioned a second lieutenant as a navigator on B-24s, the Liberator bomber. We got as far
as getting our crew together in Lincoln, Nebraska, and went out to Walla Walla, Washington,
which was to be our port of embarkation. We practiced flights around there to get accustomed to
each other as a crew, and then we were supposed to fly over to the Pacific to wind up the
operations there. It was already past VE Day. In fact, I remember we were on a troop train – this
is how callous 18-year-old kids can be or 19-year-old kids – we were on a troop train on our way,
I think, to Lincoln and VE Day came. No, I take that back. We were on a troop train someplace
and VE Day came and how disappointed we all were that we weren’t going to get a chance to
fight in Europe. Then we were on another troop train, or at least I was in transit someplace, when
VJ Day crune, and I wasn’t given a chance to fight there either. Instead of being happy and
cheering and enthusiastic, I was depressed because I didn’t have a chance to do my thing. So in
November of 1945, the Anny was very anxious to get rid ofus. We were getting paid a lot of
money in those days. I forget what it was, but in addition to our regular salary, we got a 50%
bonus because we were flying. That was one of the great inequities of our military pay at that
time – extra flying pay. Flying was much safer than most of the ground activities, much cleaner
and much more comfortable, and yet we would get a 50% bonus if we flew a certain number of
hours each month So they were paying us a lot of money and they didn’t need us anymore, so
they couldn’t wait to muster us out. In November of 1945, I was mustered out and crune back to
Milwaukee and went back to school in January 1946.
Mr. Pollak: Besides all the broadening travel and experience, how significant was this
military service in your life?
Judge Mikva: Mostly it was broadening. The military skills that I learned, learning how
to navigate, has not been something that has stayed with me particularly. I never did develop a
taste for flying. I didn’t want to pursue being a pilot. I wanted to be a pilot originally, but they
found out my depth perception was not very good and I ended up a navigator, and that was fine.
I think it was mostly the broadening experiences in terms of my involvement with different kinds
of people and different situations that I had never been exposed to before. I think I mentioned
the first time I met black people was when I was in the service. The first time I was really
exposed to the deep prejudice that was prevalent in the South against black people was then. I
remember two experiences very vividly.
On my first southern trip, I had just been in Fort Sheridan, and the first place I went for
my basic training was Keesler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi. Obviously, it was my first time south
of the Mason-Dixon Line, _ap? we were an all-white battalion, of course. There were blacks on
the base and in the town. I went to town one day and got on a bus in town and the only seats,
well, I don’t remember if there were any seats but I just happened to be sitting in the back of the
bus. I sat down. I don’t even know if I was sitting down next to a black person, or just sitting
down in an area that was designated for black people. I just sat down and the bus driver slams on
bis brakes — pulls the emergency brake up, saunters out of his seat. I still remember him looking
like a prototype of “Bull Connor”; he saunters back to me and says, “God Damn Yankees. The
uniform doesn’t give you the right to ignore the fact that that’s the nigger section of the bus. Now
you sit up there where you belong.” So I got up and sat where I belonged. Anyway, I could see
that the black people around me were very uncomfortable and wished I would go away.
The other thing I remember is an incident on my second base down South. I don’t know
where it was. It was a smaller base and the troops were still segregated, but we had only one PX
theater, one post theater, because it was too small for two theaters. Most bases had a black
theater and a white theater. Only on this one post there was just one theater. They segregated the
troops by having the blacks sit upstairs in the balcony, which was common down South. We
were walking into the theater, a buddy of mine from Alabama, and we sat down on the main
floor. And he said, “do you smell them?” And I said, “smell what?” And he said, ”you don’t
smell those niggers?” And I said, “what are you talking about?” He replied, ”Can’t you smell
those niggers upstairs? I can smell them” And I’m sure he thought he smelled something
different about black people sitting upstairs. I thought about that many times, and I realized how
deep set those feelings were and how incredibly complicated it was to try and change things; so
what an incredibly courageous act it was for Truman to order integration of the armed forces and
how much resistance there_ ?ust have been all the way up and down the line, the enlisted forces,
the officers corps, probably the Joint Chiefs, who knows. But what a courageous act it was to
just order it done.
Mr. Pollak: Well, take us back then to the returning veteran going to college for real, no
longer the service clouding your future.
Judge Mik:va: Well, I still didn’t have a clear picture of what it was I was going to do, but
I thought I would be an accountant. I liked numbers. Journalism was still attractive to me. The
father of one of my friends was a journalist who worked for the Milwaukee Sentinel, and I could
see that they had economic problems somewhat similar to the ones that my family had. They
clearly weren’t comfortable. At that point, I really decided that the one thing I wanted to do in
life was to get economically comfortable. I remember a high school friend and I, we decided in
our sophomore year, as we were walking home, we agreed that if we could ever make $5,000.
Mr. Pollak: You were saying that you had an objective of making $5,000 a year?
Judge Mikva: That would allow us economic security, and, at that time, it probably
would have. That was a lot more than people were making in our society. But that was moving
me more toward accounting than journalism because I decided accountants were more comfortable
than journalists. I came back to school. I had developed a lot more self confidence by
that time, and I was more comfortable with the opposite sex and was more comfortable about
who I was myself. I found that I could make friends a little bit, not a lot. I still had some trouble
in a certain respect. Nowhere near as bad as I had had in high school.
Mr. Pollak: Let me just interrupt and ask, what were the dollars you earned in the
service? What was the range?
Judge Mikva: I tbipJ.< when I enlisted, I was getting $21 a month I think when I became
a Second Lieutenant, I was getting something close to $200 a month, and that was a lot. I could
not spend it all because room and board were paid for and I was single. So it was how much you
could drink, and, being 18, it was hard to drink that much It was a lot of money. I didn’t save
anything. I don’t remember saving any. But I lived very well. Better than I ever had.
Mr. Pollak: Well, that was an interruption. You were looking toward what you wanted
Judge Mikva: So I was beginning to think about it. Mostly, I was interested in having a
good time. This time I went to school in Madison, Wisconsin. I had the GI Bill so my tuition
was paid, my books were paid. I think we were getting $60 a month or $70 a month or
something. Oh, the first thing we did when we came back, there was something called the 52-20
Club, which was a program that Congress had passed giving returning veterans the opportunity to
ease back into the work force. You would get $20 a week unemployment compensation, aside
from anything else, and we just called it the 52-20 Club. We got $20 a week for 52 weeks. I
didn’t take the whole 52 weeks, but I remember from whenever it was I mustered out until
January 1946, I collected $20 a week for doing nothing, and I did nothing and I did it very well. I
partied a lot. We had welcome home parties. There was always someone coming back from
someplace. I can’t believe the amount that we drank in those days. I was 20, 19 or 20. And we
drank an incredible amount of money away. I went back to school in Madison in January and
went into a dormitory there and spent a lot of time cultivating the social graces. I learned how to
sail and how to dance better and how to shoot craps unsuccessfully. I did a little bit of writing
for the Daily Cardinal, not much, because you know by that time I had pretty well decided that
journalism was one of the (??ies of my youth. And I had to concentrate on the more serious
commercial courses. But I didn’t do anytbmg toward that end in terms of my scholastic achievement.
At the end of the first semester, I joined a fraternity, Phi Sigma Delta, which has since
merged into another.
Mr. Pollak: Was it a Jewish fraternity?
Judge Mikva: A Jewish fraternity. There were no mixed fraternities. Either Jewish
fraternities or non-Jewish fraternities. The blacks didn’t belong to any fraternities. There weren’t
very many blacks on campus at the time. None on the football team In fact, none on any of the
sports teams at WISconsin. At the fraternity, I was the steward, which meant that I got my dues
paid and my room and board paid, so that I really was very comfortable financially because I was
getting this GI Bill and didn’t have any expenses of any kind. The GI Bill money I could spend
on myself. I remember that my grades went from straight A’s at the Extension to A’s my first
semester back, B’s my second semester back, to C’s in my third semester back, because I was just
having a very good time. I still think of those times at Wisconsin as being some of the happiest
times ofmy whole growing up. It was great fun. Then, in January of 1947, I met my wife on a
Mr. Pollak: You were sort of in your sophomore year?
Judge Mikva: In my sophomore year of college. I was roommates with a man who is still
a friend who was dating one of her roommates at Chicago, the University of Chicago. Zoe came
up to visit Lulu. Len Zubrensky, my roommate, had a date with Lulu in Milwaukee that
weekend. I sort of remember Lenny when he came into our room, four of us were living
together, and said, Lulu, which was bis girlfriend’s name, was having one of her roommates come
up to spend the weekend ? .Milwaukee and he thought we’d go out on a double date. He had
never met this girl. He said, “She was supposed to have a lot of personality.” That was a code
word that she was some ugly hag. So we all looked for escapes. One fell out the window and the
other ran out of the room, and I was stuck. The idea of this homely, ugly roommate of Lulu’s did
not overwhelm me with enthusiasm Anyway, he prevailed on me and so I met her on this blind
date. It was the beginning of an over 50-year romance. He did not date Lulu much thereafter,
but I certainly became more involved with Lulu’s roommate.
Mr. Pollak: She was a student at the University of Chicago?
Judge Mikva: In her second year at the University of Chicago. And I was in my third
year at Wisconsin. She apparently had been going through a series of boyfriends that her parents
just thought were awful and, when she brought me home to meet her parents, I was encouraged
by her mother. We were having fun together, but I don’t think she was really serious, being only
18. She wasn’t ready to settle down. But her mother just saw me as the first one that could even
come passably close to being a worthy son-in-law. She decided that I was the one that Zoe
should marry and, in the most conniving, manipulative way. I am amazed that Zoe put up with it.
Her mother decided to pull the financial strings on Zoe and announced that Zoe couldn’t go back
to Chicago because they just didn’t have enough money to send her back so she’d have to
continue school in St. Louis, which is where she grew up, at Washington University. Since I had
the GI Bill, I was footloose and fancy free as her mother knew; and in fact, I’m sure she had
asked me if I would go to school in St. Louis, and I said, “oh, I’d love to go to Washington
University.” So I came to St. Louis and Zoe came back there very unhappy about being pulled
back home. But, among the blind, a one-eyed act man is king. Compared to all the other galoots
around, I began to look be??er and better, and we spent the year at Washington University. I was
in something called the Special Veterans Program The school was overcrowded with regular
students. So they set up these after school programs, after regular hours programs, and brought
in high school teachers and others to teach courses. It was very easy, besides which many of the
temptations of Wisconsin were no longer there. I was also a year older, so I was a little bit more
serious. I began to think about wanting to get married and have a career, and Zoe announced that
she couldn’t imagine anything more boring than my being an accountant; why would I want to do
that? She said I should think about something interesting like ?aw school, which I immediately
started to do; and I proposed to her. Actually, it’s all jumbled together. I was still at Wisconsin
when I pinned her, which was something that people did in those days. They took their fraternity
pin and gave it to their girl which meant they were going steady. She wasn’t overwhelmed with
this idea, but it was sort of the thing to do at Wisconsin and sort of glamorous and she was
staying in the sorority house and I could climb the balcony to put the pin on her at her sorority
house and my fraternity brothers serenaded her. Two things about that pinning. One is that our
youngest daughter found the pin somewhere in Zoe’s possessions and proceeded to take it to
school one day for show and tell.
The other thing I remember about the pinning was that last year, I was given an honorary
degree at the University of Wisconsin. Zoe came up with me for it. We tried to find that sorority
house balcony which I climbed, and we couldn’t find it. I warned her that even if we found it, I
was not about to reconstruct the scene.
Life in St. Louis was kind of fun. I enjoyed Washington University. I liked the idea that I
could spend a lot of time with Zoe who was living at home. I spent a lot of time at her parents’
house. They lived cornfort??ly but were not well off. It was nice to see a family that was more
functional than ours, not that her parents got along all that well all the time, but it was generally a
better functioning family than mine. She had a younger sister who I have always liked very
much It was just a pleasant year, and, after a good year, before the semester break in the spring,
I proposed to her, and she accepted. Compared to the competition in St. Louis, I was pretty good.
We talked about, if we did get married, we would go back to Chicago. I remember when I called
my mother to tell her that I was engaged to Zoe, the first question was, “does that mean that you
are not going to go to law school?” Because I had already started to talk about law school. I
assured her I was going anyway. She could not understand how I could go to law school and be
married at the same time.
We were married in September of 1948. I had finished three years of undergraduate, two
at Wisconsin and one at Washington University in St. Louis. And fortunately, the semesters at
Washington University had gotten my grade point back up again because the courses were easy
and I spent a little more time on my studies than I had in Wisconsin. So my grade point was a
little better than it had been, though I still marvel at the changes that have gone on in places like
my alma mater. They didn’t have anything like the law school aptitude tests but, based on my
overall grade point average, I just don’t think that I would be considered at the University of
Chicago these days. But it was after the war and the competition still wasn’t that great to get into
law school. I was admitted.
Mr. Pollak: Did you graduate from Washington University at all?
Judge Mikva: No. I don’t have an undergraduate degree at all. In those days you could
get into law school if you had three years undergraduate. I still have to correct people who
assume that I have a bacheJ9rs degree from some place. I say, no. And they look at me in
Mr. Pollak: And what about Zoe?
Judge Mik:va: She had gotten this two-year degree that Robert Maynard Hutchins had
innovated. She’d gotten a Ph.B., her bachelors in philosophy, and then she had had a year at
Washington University and came back into the master’s program in sociology at Chicago. She
got her master’s degree at the same time that I graduated from law school.
Mr. Pollak: Well, is there more to say about college? Your college was not really as big
a time intellectually.
Judge Mikva: No, intellectually, it was a bust. When I came to Chicago, I was somewhat
nervous. I remember the first time I visited at Chicago how overwhelmed I was by how erudite
they seemed to be. They were all so sophisticated. They were talking about things and doing
things that I had no awareness of. I remember going to a class Zoe took for a year at Chicago
called “Organization, Interpretation and Integration of the Sciences” — 011. It was taught by a
very competent teacher. I sat in one day, and I was overwhelmed at how smart these kids were.
They knew all about Hegel and Aristotle and Plato and Kant and all of these philosophers, and I
had never heard of most of these people. I remember going back to Los Angeles that summer
and educating myself.
Mr. Pollak: I think my recollection is that you’d said that you were somewhat intimidated
by the intellectuals at Chicago?
Judge Mik:va: And so that summer, I went back to Los Angeles. Zoe was staying in the
Midwest. We were already going to get married. I spent the summer in Los Angeles driving a
cab by night and reading t?? ?ornplete works of Plato by day, the complete works of Aristotle by
day, and I came back in the fall, on my first day with Zoe, and I said, all right, let’s talk about
Aristotle. She said what are you talkmg about. I said I’ve read it now. She said “you don’t
understand, I read a little snippet of it in class, that’s all we read.” I realized that the University
of Chicago undergraduate school had this wonderful way of giving people an exposure to little
snippets of all of the great philosophers and the thinkers of our time.
Mr. Pollak: But that was probably an important thing to learn?
Judge Mikva: Yes. And it’s true of a lot of life. For all of that, I still entered law school
with great trepidation. It was clear that I had had a very pedestrian education, partly my fault,
partly the institutions that I went to. The University of Wisconsin was no longer that great
institution it had been in the 1930s, and again I didn’t apply myself. When I came there I was
really not up to the speed of most of the students at the University of Chicago Law School.
Mr. Pollak: Before going at law school, I gather that you didn’t do things like debating,
that were sort of precursors of a legal career?
Judge Mikva: No. I had been involved a little bit in high school politics. There was
something called the Badger Boy’s State which used to take debaters up to Madison, the state
capital, for a day. We’d think we were legislators. I had done that. I loved it. In college, Len
Zubrensky and I had gotten a little bit involved – that was my roommate who introduced me to
Zoe – had gotten a little bit involved in Wisconsin politics. I guess the one incident I still
remember is that in 1946, Robert LaFollette was leaving the Progressive Party and rejoining the
Republican Party. He was then an incumbent Senator, but he decided that he wanted to rejoin the
Republican Party. We thought LaFollette was a very hard person to beat in Wisconsin, but we
had a very good DemocratiC? candidate who was a professor from the University of Wisconsin
named Howard McMurray; he was the Democratic candidate for the Senate. We thought that the
best way to knock off LaFollette was to get the Republican nomination for this upstate Wisconsin
divorce judge who nobody knew very much about. We thought since there were open primaries,
we could get all the Democrats to go into the primaries to vote for this upstate divorce judge and
we would knock off LaFollette and then our man could win. We were mostly successful. We
knocked off Lafollette, but Joe McCarthy went on to beat our candidate for the Senate. I still
remember, even though I wasn’t old enough to vote, I was only 20, wearing these big McCarthy
buttons during the primaries so, when the other Senator McCarthy, Gene McCarthy, ran during
the Vietnam War, I still winced every time I’d see somebody wearing a McCarthy button because
I remembered my own embarrassment. But that was the only political involvement that I
remember. We were a little bit involved in Wisconsin politics through that campaign.
Mr. Pollak: Any significant professors that influenced you at Wisconsin or Washington
Judge Mikva: No. At Washington University, I could not begin to tell you about any of
my professors. At Wisconsin, there was a guy named Selig Perlman. He was a very famous
economics professor at the time. By taking his course, “Capitalism and Socialism,” I remember I
walked out of there with a misconception. I thought he had said that the reason that we would
never have a revolution in this country was that there was too much, it was too easy for money to
be available, that people could borrow money too easily. He said there was too much ”lend.”
What he was saying was that most of the land had been distributed fairly. So that’s all I learned
The great influence_ <;>:i;t my college years, I remember from Wisconsin, was Jim Doyle,
who was a young lawyer in Madison at the time. He’d just come back from World War II, and he
was one of the founders of the American Veterans Committee. That was the other
extracurricular activity, I remember I joined that. We were going to be citizens first and veterans
second. It was the antidote to the American Legion. Jim Doyle was a lovely man. He was a
young lawyer. He was very enthusiastic about life and politics and went on to become State
Chairman and then President of the ADA and a very outstanding District judge. He was the
District judge in Madison.
Mr. Pollak: Oh yes, I remember his name.
Judge Mikva: The family is still very prominent in academic and political affairs. His
son is Attorney General of Wisconsin. One of his daughters is a former dean at the University of
Miami Law School. It’s just a great family. Jim was an influence on me. He’s only a few years
older than I am but he was already a rising star on the progressive, socially democratic scene.
But other than that, I remember learning to sail on Lake Mendota, not much intellectual contact
Mr. Pollak: Your health was always good?
Judge Mikva: Yes, as a child I had had various ailments. My mother always claimed that
I was a sickly child. From the time I remember, I was skinny. I believe I weighed 137 pounds
when I got married. My wife and my mother-in-law had a “fatten me up” campaign, but other
than that, I was in good health. I have flat feet. That was the only thing that the Army
diagnosed. That didn’t interfere with my flying career. Other than that I was in good health.
Mr. Pollak: Well, law school, law school. Do you want to do law school?
Judge Mikva: Why _don’t we start it anyway and then call it a day. Law school was the
most important intellectual experience I have ever had in my life. First, as I said, I came in very
awed by the company I was keeping. I realized these people all were so much smarter than I was
and so much more prepared. I don’t know that I thought they were smarter. They were so much
better prepared. I told Zoe that since the practice of law at that time was very competitive, if I
didn’t get grades at least at the top quarter of my class, I was getting out of law school and going
back to accounting. She thought that was ridiculous. She said you are not going to do that well.
You don’t have sufficient background, so you should just stop setting these impossible goals for
yourself. But I was determined to do well.
Mr. Pollak: You must have just been married?
Judge Milcva: We married September 19th and the first classes were October 1.
Mr. Pollak: Any honeymoon?
Judge Mikva: We took a week up at Lake Winnebago, which is in Wisconsin near
Oshkosh, and my father was still alive and he had come in from California for the wedding. He
and my mother were not living together. He was living separately. He decided he wanted to
spend some time with me since he hadn’t seen me for a year and wasn’t going to see me for a
while. He was going back to California, and we were not going to get out there. I still can’t
believe I did this to my wife and had the luck to survive it. He came up to our cottage with us
during our honeymoon and spent several days with us up there. The honeymoon was all of a
week, and he spent three or four days with us up there at Lake Winnebago; and he was not good
company. But it’s remained a good family story. The wedding was fine.
Mr. Pollak: The wedding must have been in Chicago?
Judge Mikva: In St .. μmis. I remember the big trauma was my grandmother, who could
not believe I was marrying a Jewish girl. We decided not to take her to the synagogue the Friday
night before because it was a reform temple and they did play the organ. In fact, it was Sunday
morning service. It did look very much like a church It was a real super reform synagogue in St.
Louis. So we decided not to take her to the services, but she still was very suspicious. When the
rabbi came out wearing a black gown, as reform rabbis do, instead of a prayer shawl and high hat
as the orthodox rabbis did, she was convinced that I was in fact marrying a Catholic girl because
the rabbi was really a Catholic priest. My uncle had to physically restrain her to keep her from
wa1king out of the hotel where the marriage was being performed. It was, as I recall it, a fairly
modest wedding. My father-in-law kept saying that he would give us $5,000 if I would elope
because it would be cheaper. I don’t know ifhe really spent that much or not. It was a very
modest wedding. After the wedding, we flew up to Chicago, which was the first time Zoe had
ever flown and the first time I had ever been in a civilian airplane. I flew in military planes
during the war. We flew up to Chicago and had dinner at a Chicago restaurant and spent our
wedding night in Chicago and then went up to Lake Winnebago for this week honeymoon and
came back and started school. We got an apartment on the south side of Chicago. We set up
what was really a very luxurious household. My mother-in-law was an interior decorator, and
her wedding present to us was to furnish this four-room apartment. We had glorious furniture;
and it was a really nice, big, roomy apartment, with windows on either side.
I started law school. I’d commute every day on public transportation when I went to law
school on 59th Street. It was the way we’d start our day. Each morning on the way in, we were
on the same time schedule as Robert Maynard Hutchms, and it was a great uplifting experience
to walk on the campus goiug toward the law school and see him striding toward the
Administration Building and say, good morning chancellor, and he’d say good morning.
Mr. Pollak: So you were intimidated by your classmates?
Judge Mikva: I was. Over half the class had gone to undergraduate school at the
University of Chicago, and I had some very bright people in the class. Bob Bork was a
classmate. He and I became friends early on. He’d gone to the University of Chicago and was
very bright and showed it in class. One of my other famous classmates was Patsy Mink, then
Patsy Takemoto, who was very bright, like most women had to be. We only had three women in
the class. We had three women, three blacks in a class of 153. But we had a black professor,
unlike hardly any other major law school at the time, William Robert Ming, who was a famous
civil rights lawyer. He was a very brilliant teacher and a very brilliant lawyer. Unfortunately, he
got himself into trouble. He didn’t pay his income taxes; but he was a very good teacher, and he
taught civil procedure in my first year. And I remember learning a lot from him I was very
impressed at the time on how well organized he was in teachmg.
The faculty was outstanding. Edward Levi was then a young professor at the law school.
He became dean in my second year. Harry Kalven was a young professor at the law school.
Bernie Meltzer had just returned to the faculty. Walter Blum was there as a tax professor. They
were all in their early 30s, late 20s, and just full of enthusiasm and full of excitement about the
law. The old guard that were there were good. Charles Gregory who taught labor law and torts
was a good professor. He was older, but he was pleased at the new faces that were coming on.
William W. Crosskey, a controversial constitutional law professor, was there. He liked the idea
of all this ferment going on. Sheldon Tefft taught property. He was an old guard, but he
tolerated these young whippersnappers. Others of the old guard sort of began to fade into the
woodwork as these young and bright educators took over. It was exciting.
Mr. Pollak: Who was dean?
Judge Mikva: A man by the name of Wilbur Katz, who taught corporation law. He was
dean for the first year and was delighted to give up the reins and turned them over to Edward
Levi, who was probably the youngest dean around – well, the youngest dean in Chicago’s
history. Probably Hutchins at Yale Law was the youngest dean ever. Levi literally began to
transform that law school. He brought in all kinds of new people, young people, people with big
Malcolm Sharp taught contracts, and cases that we studied in that course I applied later
on when I was on the court or Congress and even at the White House. His influence on me and a
whole generation was immeasurable. Harry Kalven, I think, taught us torts first, even though
civil rights was his forte’, but it came the second year and he taught seminars on free speech A
veritable intellectual feast.
Mr. Pollak: How would you balance the significance to your legal education of the
professors and of your fellow students?
Judge Mikva: The professors were overwhelmingly important. Admission to the
University of Chicago Law School at that time was nowhere near as competitive as it is today,
and I don’t think that my class was uniformly that great. There were some very bright people in
it, and it certainly was among the brighter law classes in the country; but it would not hold a
candle to the current makeup of law school classes at places like Chicago or Stanford or Harvard
or Yale. The professors were incredible. First of all, we could relate to them They were close
to our age. They had had om.- experiences. Most of them had been in service or had grown up
about the same time we did. They had been affected by the same political currents and
intellectual currents that had affected us, and they imparted them to us. They were on the
intellectual make, if I can use that tenn Levi was determined to turn Chicago back into a firstrate
law school, which I guess it had been and had not been for a while thereafter. And he did.
He brought in name professors; but more than that, he started bringing in cross-fertilization
concepts. He brought in the first “economics 2nd” in the law courses; that was a meaty idea. He
brought in psychiatrists and psychologists.
Mr. Pollak: You were class of 1949? \Vas that 1951?
Judge Mikva: I entered in 1948.
Mr. Pollak: That was really in a lot of respects your intellectual birth?
Judge Mikva: Oh, it was.
Mr. Pollak: Haven’t you been surprised that you took to it and did so well so
Judge Mikva: Absolutely. I realized also that even though I had had this great, what I
thought was such a good public school education in Milwaukee, good public schools, and
reasonably small classes, and reasonably bright teachers, that the methodology was so bad. It
never involved thinking. Most of it was rote. You learned things by memorizing and that was
true at Wisconsin. I studied for exams by memorizing dates and memorizing concepts and I
couldn’t begin to understand what they meant. It was sort of the way I learned navigation when I
was in the Army. I learned it by rote. You had this little computer and were told if you pushed
this dial here and that dial there and then read the third dial, that will tell you your wind speed.
And nobody told you how .it worked or why it worked that way or what were the theories of
Mr. Pollak: But hadn’t something happened to you when you went to Los Angeles and
read Plato and Aristotle? Wasn’t that some change in you?
Judge Mikva: I think clearly my life began to change enormously when I met my wife
and began to think about other things. I had a late growing up. But the oat sowing – if you want
to call it that – that I had in college, most other kids had in high school. I hadn’t had that
exposure, and so I was three years behind the curve. Meeting Zoe and settling down with her in a
single relationship gave me the time to start to explore whatever my intellectual capacities were
and to be interested, which I just hadn’t been before. If anything, I had read books in my
childhood as an escape because I didn’t have anything else to do. When I found other things to
do, the books went south; and it wasn’t until I met Zoe and had to think seriously about what I
wanted to be when I grew up that books then became important.
Mr. Pollak: But you did have that background of a lot of early reading?
Judge Mikva: Yes. And a good public school education, which, with all its faults, gave
me the four Rs.
Mr. Pollak: Did the Law Journal make a difference or the Law Review?
Judge Mikva: Yes. Again, it was my first exposure to legal writing, which I suppose you
could say was an oxymoron. There is a style of legal writing, and I learned it as a competitor and
then as editor of the Law Review. Secondly, it gave me my first real editing experience, reading
other people’s work and revising it, which is something that lawyers do a lot of and judges do a
lot of and congressmen do a lot of. Then it gave me that important piece of self confidence that
this really was my place; tb?t I was good at it; that my peers recognized I was good at it; that my
superiors recognized I was good at it. I began to believe in myself that I was good at it. I
understood what the process was like. It was kind of a liberation for me. I realized that
education did not involve memorization; that that was not the tool of an education. Especially at
law school, you didn’t have to memorize what was the rule in Shelley’s Case or even what the
name of the cases were, which I still don’t remember. What you have to do is learn how to think
about those things and how to analyze things.
Mr. Pollak: Falsgraf. I will never forget the name of the Falsgraf case.
Judge Mik:va: [Laughter] An experience happened to me, when my eldest daughter went
to law school.
Mr. Pollak: Falsgraf v. Long Island Railroad.
Judge Mik:va: Throwing a woman off the train.
Mr. Pollak: It was the firecracker. Didn’t somebody throw a firecracker?
Judge Mik:va: Was that it? It’s consequential damages, wasn’t it?.
No, that wasn’t Falsgraf. It was a case like that. It was Hadley v. Baxendale. I was in
Congress and I was getting my annual physical exam out at Bethesda, the Naval Hospital. I was
out there and the doctor had instruments all over me and was giving me this thorough
examination and the nurse comes in and says, “Congressman, your office is on the phone.” I got
on the phone and my secretary said my daughter Mary was calling. Mary was going to
Northwestern Law School; the call was put through because there was an understanding that
when a member of the family called, they could reach me wherever I was. So with great
trepidation, I picked up the phone. I said, “Yes Mary, what is it?” She said, “Daddy, Hadley v.
Baxendale.” I said, “What, ?hat, what?” She said, “I don’t understand it.” [Laughing] I think
that was the last time she asked my advice.
Mr. Pollak: Well, your peers must have elected you to be editor-in-chief or how did you
get the job?
Judge Mikva: It was the outgoing board that elected me to the new board. So it was sort
of my peers, my peers plus one. I had had a very good first note in taxation, thanks to Walter
Blum who forced me to understand tax even though I didn’t really want to. I was more interested
in the Bill of Rights and other parts of the law. He just made me understand why this concept of
income was so ephemeral and why it was so hard for judges and law makers to straighten out. I
wrote; and even in retrospect, I looked at it, and it was a good note, and he made me write it. He
didn’t write it for me, but he forced me to think it through and go back. There must have been 20
drafts. He was my faculty advisor and he said, “Think about this. Just think about this.” It was a
good note. I think I displayed my capacity to get along with my peers, which was one of the
things they required on the board. It was a final important badge for me to have to be satisfied
that this is what I wanted, that I wanted to be a lawyer.
Mr. Pollak: Did you have anything to do with other parts of the University while you
Judge Mikva: A little bit. We had a local “McCarthy” by the name of Broyles, Paul
Broyles, a state senator; and he was conducting state senate investigations. This was 1949, 1950,
and civil rights were a hot issue. We were just beginning to be aware that there was a group
called SNCC – Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee – which was the first civil rights
group that was doing any active stuff. I remember we tried to integrate some restaurants and a
riding academy. A group of students (I was not one of them) went down to Springfield to lobby
against some proposal on political speech The lobbying was fairly noneventful, but they went to
eat lunch at a drug store; and since one of the students was black, the drug store wouldn’t serve
him; so they sat in. At that point, Broyles and the drug store were outraged. The business
community was outraged. They thought communists were trying to sit in at a drugstore. So
Broyles was able to get an investigation of the University of Chicago authorized by the state
legislature. There was only one vote against it, in the senate. Abraham Lincoln Marovitz was
then a state senator, and he was the lone “no” vote on the investigation. We were so impressed
that we got him to come to the campus and speak to us under the auspices of the ACLU. It was
one warm May day in Chicago at the University, and there was my wife, me and Senator
Marovitz and maybe two other stray dogs that wandered into the hall; those were all that came to
hear Senator Marovitz give his explanation of why he was against the bill. Anyway, the
legislature conducted the investigation. The investigation turned out to be one of Robert
Maynard Hutchins’ great successful adventures. He just turned that investigation on its ear. The
students were determined to go down and participate or at least observe it, and we were
concerned that there would be another outbreak or some kind of uproar and that Broyles would
turn that on the University. The University got a group of us law students to sort of act as
marshals, and we were up in the gallery, and our sole purpose was to keep the students from
engaging in any kind of outbreak of noise or demonstration of any kind. This was not easy
because Hutchins was at his funniest best. The name of the investigator was J.B. Matthews, and
Hutchins just ran rings around Matthews and Broyles because they kept asking him why he had
all these communist professors listed in the directory and Hutchins kept saying, “Well, I don’t
know if they’re cornmunists.or not but the reason they’re listed is because it says ’emeritus’; we
list all retired professors. They’re emeritus and we list them as emeritus.” Matthews said, “But
you continue to list them, why do you list them?” And Hutchins said, “Look, you know, it’s the
same as Henry Wallace, who will always be an ex-Vice President of the United States. There’s
nothing you can do about it,” delivered with that great timing of his. (Henry Wallace was then
running as a third-party candidate for president and sounding very radical.) Our main job was to
go around and “Shush,” the students to keep them from applauding or laughing out loud.
Anyway, I was involved in that.
Bob Bork was my good friend; Bob Bork then was as far to the left as he is now to the
right. He was involved in the National Lawyers’ Guild and several other organizations that
would bring speakers on campus. I remember there was one speaker that they wouldn’t let on
because he didn’t have the proper sponsorship, so finally the law school students, which Bork
formed, offered him sponsorship. Bork and I actually introduced him. It was about the only
extracurricular thing I remember.
Mr. Pollak: Intellectually, you said the University was greatly important to your later
Judge Mikva: Yes, it was.
Mr. Pollak: What about the contacts that you made, the human beings that you met?
Judge Mikva: The faculty remained important to me all my career. Not just in law
school but elsewhere. When I was in Congress, I had a Saturday morning think tank once a
month Some brilliant people at the University of Chicago, both from the law school and the
college, would come and consult with me and advise me on some of the things I was thinking
about. Some of the good ?qeas that I had when I was in Congress I would get from people like
Hany Kalven and Leo Strauss, and some other of the great names at the University of Chicago.
So it’s always been a tremendous influence, not only while I was there but in all the things that
have gone on since. Edward Levi has been my mentor all through my life. He got me the
Supreme Court clerkship. He encouraged me in almost everything I did. Everything except the
writing of my book on legislative history.
Mr. Pollak: In these years, were you reading the daily papers and the periodicals?
Judge Mikva: I was reading the Chicago Sun Times. I did not develop a daily need for
the New York Times until much later. It was nice that when I was in Congress and at the
White House I had this clipping service to make sure I saw all the important stories in the Times
and all the other newspapers. I miss that. I never did develop that absolute addiction to the
Times. Magazines, I read Time magazine. I read the New Republic occasionally, not all the time.
I read and I guess I still do read a lot more lawyer news than some. When I was a lawyer I liked
to read what the competition was doing. In the practice Milt Shadur and I always thought of
ourselves as serious about the law; we would continue our intellectual curiosity that the
University of Chicago had instilled in us, and so we regularly read Chicago’s Law Review and
Harvard’s, Yale’s. We slcimmed them That was about it. I would read the Chicago Tribune
fairly regularly and the Chicago Daily News – whichG56 at that time was a great newspaper – the
afternoon newspaper, which went out of business. The non-influences were perhaps as important
as influences. I never watched television. I never relied on the news until very, very late in my
life. In Congress, for instance, it never occurred to me to watch the television news.
Mr. Pollak: What about radio? Did radio play a role?
Judge Mikva: Yes,_ ?ore for entertainment purposes. During the war it was informative
because we could get coverage of breaking events.
Mr. Pollak: Ed Murrow, Elmer Davis?
Judge Mikva: Right. You remember those names. But other than that, again, I never
listened to the hourly news; and the idea of a full-time news station or a regular news program as
being essential to keeping up with what was going on was just unheard of.
Mr. Pollak: Well, that’s a great start.
INTERVIEW NO. 1