Although he had no military experience, Senator Levin served for 10 years – from 2001 to 2003 and from 2007 to 2015 – chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, a platform from which he had a major influence on military appropriation and defense policy.
He exposed lavish and corrupt practices by military companies, voted to close bases, pushed for less government secrecy, and was instrumental in lifting the ban on gays in the military. He argued that military commanders and non-civilian officials should retain authority over sexual assault cases in the armed forces, arguing that doing so would provide more protection for victims.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks, he voted to give President George W. Bush the power to prosecute the perpetrators. But he became critical of the American fighting in Afghanistan and was an early opponent of the Iraq war. He expressed skepticism about the government’s claims that President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. He welcomed President Barack Obama’s decision in 2011 to withdraw American troops from Iraq.
Carl Milton Levin was born in Detroit on June 28, 1934, one of three children of Saul Levin and the former Bess Levinson. His father was a lawyer and a member of Michigan’s Correction Commission, which operated state prisons. Public affairs dominated the conversation over dinner, with the father asking Carl and his siblings Hannah for opinions on the death penalty, mayor’s decisions, and other issues.
Carl graduated from Detroit Central High School in 1952, Swarthmore College with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1956, and Harvard Law School in 1959.
In 1961 he married Barbara Halpern. They had three daughters, Kate, Laura and Erica. He leaves behind his wife, daughters, brother and six grandchildren.
After serving five years as an attorney in Detroit, he was Deputy Attorney General and General Counsel of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission from 1964 to 1967. He helped set up the Detroit Public Defender’s Office and was its chief defense attorney from 1968-69. From 1969 to 1977 he served two terms on the Detroit City Council, the last four years as president. He also became a close associate of Coleman Young, a Democrat who became Detroit’s first African American mayor in 1974.