While he had no military experience, Senator Levin served for 10 years — from 2001 to 2003 and from 2007 to 2015 — as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a platform from which he exerted a major influence on military appropriations and defense policies.
He exposed wasteful and corrupt practices by military contractors, voted to close bases, pushed for less secrecy in government and was instrumental in lifting the ban on gays in the military. He argued that military commanders, not civilian officials, should retain authority over sexual assault cases in the armed forces, arguing that doing so would afford more protection for victims.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks, he voted to give President George W. Bush authority to go after the perpetrators. But he grew critical of American fighting in Afghanistan and was an early opponent of the Iraq war, voicing skepticism over the administration’s claim that President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He hailed President Barack Obama’s 2011 decision 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 member of Michigan’s Correction Commission, which ran state prisons. Public affairs dominated dinner conversations, the father asking Carl, his brother and sister, Hannah, for opinions on capital punishment, mayoral decisions and other topics.
Carl graduated from Detroit Central High School in 1952, from Swarthmore College in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, and from Harvard Law School in 1959.
He married Barbara Halpern in 1961. They had three daughters, Kate, Laura and Erica. He is survived by his wife, daughters, brother and six grandchildren.
After five years practicing law in Detroit, he became an assistant attorney general and general counsel for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission from 1964 to 1967. He helped form the Detroit Public Defender’s office, and in 1968-69 was its chief appellate defender. He served two terms on the Detroit City Council from 1969 to 1977, the last four years as president. He also became a close associate of Coleman Young, a Democrat who in 1974 became Detroit’s first African American mayor.