After two years without an ambassador in Norway, US President Barack Obama has finally announced a new nominee to be his representative in Oslo. The nomination of Minnesota attorney Samuel D Heins, made official on Thursday, comes after Obama’s first choice botched his hearing before US senators and failed to win confirmation.
The ambassador post in Oslo is among those traditionally awarded by US presidents to major financial contributors to their successful election campaigns. It was most recently held from 2009 until 2013 by Boston attorney Barry White, who played a key fundraising role in Obama’s 2008 election campaign. White was brought home after four years when he was supposed to be replaced by another major Obama donor, wealthy Greek-American hotel entrepreneur George James Tsunis of Long Island, New York. Tsunis performed poorly at his Senate confirmation hearing, though, and his nomination offended politicians in Norway and was strongly opposed by the Norwegian-American community. He eventually withdrew after it became clear he would not win confirmation.
That left Obama in need of a new ambassador nominee and his choice landed on Heins, who comes from a state with around 900,000 residents of Norwegian descent. Heins is a 1972 graduate of the University of Minnesota’s law school and most recently was a senior partner at the law firm Heins Mills & Olson in Minneapolis, which specializes in antitrust, securities fraud and consumer protection cases.
Heins earned millions of dollars as a lawyer, not least when his firm won a USD 2.65 billion class action settlement against AOL Time Warner and he and his partner wife Stacey Mills received cuts of USD 48 million and USD 32 million each, according to Minnesota Law & Politics (external link). In addition to being what the Washington Post called a “$1 million-plus bundler” for Obama who’s been spotted at White House dinners for British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, Heins has donated heavily to human rights and anti-violence campaigns.
The University of Minnesota Law School, which hailed Heins’ nomination and called him one of the school’s “most distinguished alumni,” described Heins as “one of the state’s most dedicated champions of international humn rights.” He co-founded The Advocates for Human Rights in 1983 and served as its first chairman of the board. In 1985 he also played a key role in establishing the Center for Victims of Torture in St Paul, Minnesota and also led its first board of directors. He continues to serve as a board member and vice-chair and has funded fellowships and research by students at the University of Minnesota Law School’s Human Rights Center. He also serves on the board of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation that bills itself as supporting “smart strategies to secure a more peaceful world.”
Law School Dean David Wippman called Heins “an excellent choice” to serve as US ambassador to Norway, given his legal, management and negotiation skills. “His human rights work reflects a broader passion for civil rights and civil liberties and a commitment to public service,” Wippman declared in a statement from the law school. “Sam will serve the United States well as a highly effective ambassador.”
His tenure, however, is likely to be short, probably little more than a year if he’s confirmed. He must also go through the Senate confirmation hearing process and Obama’s own presidential term runs only through the end of next year. After that, ambassadors who hold political appointments are expected to resign unless they’re specifically asked by the new administration to stay on. Otherwise, whoever wins the US presidential election in November 2016 will appoint a new ambassador to Norway.