As a Michigan Supreme Court member, Justice Charles L. Levin’s opinions have been widely published and taught in law schools throughout the United States.
Leading with a streak of independence and justice for all people, former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Charles L. Levin died peacefully, surrounded by his family on Nov. 19, 2020, in his Detroit home at age 94.
At a private graveside funeral on Nov. 20, Rabbi Joseph Krakoff said that Justice Levin was blessed with “the crown of a good name.”
“Justice Levin embodied kindness and gentleness along with profound wisdom,” Krakoff said. “He had unwavering integrity as both a scholar and a teacher. Above all, his life’s importance was his family. He reprioritized his life for them, whoever needed him most at any given time.”
Born on April 28, 1926, in the Dexter-Davison neighborhood of Detroit to Rhoda and Theodore Levin, Justice Levin’s life was one shaped by a family dynasty steeped in law, politics and public service. His cousins Sander Levin and Carl Levin both represented Michigan in Congress. His father was chief judge of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan for whom the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse in Downtown Detroit is named.
As a Michigan Supreme Court member, Justice Levin’s opinions have been widely published and taught in law schools throughout the United States. According to the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Justice Levin ruled several times on the environment, sometimes deciding in favor of strict regulations to protect Michigan’s waterways and Great Lakes from agricultural and phosphorus runoffs and overfishing, but at other times in favor of loosening local zoning laws for mineral extraction.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, the son of Sander and another cousin of Charles, wrote: “Chuck was a lawyer’s lawyer and a true independent. After serving six years on the Michigan Court of Appeals, he formed his own party to run for the Michigan Supreme Court, and he was reelected as an independent three more times.
“You could often predict that Chuck would be the deciding vote on a case — but not which way he would come down. When he wrote a decision, whether for the majority, in concurrence or dissent, his opinions were scholarly and often read like legal treatises. His writing was carefully organized, well considered, deferential to legal precedent and sympathetic to the rights of individuals.”
‘His Own Person’
Former U.S. Rep. Sander Levin fondly recalled his cousin “Chuck” as an independent, strong justice who “was the voice of justice for everyone.”
“Chuck had a deep feeling about equal justice for everybody,” said Sander Levin in a telephone interview. “The hallmark of his life is that had a strong streak of independence. His belief in justice guided his judicial life. He was his own person, in all aspects, and I think that is why he was so well respected.”
Justice Levin received his B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1946 and his LL.B. degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1947 when he was admitted to the Michigan bar. Levin joined the New York bar in June 1949, the District of Columbia bar in October 1954, and the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1953. He served as a Michigan Court of Appeals judge from 1966-1973 and as a Michigan Supreme Court associate justice from 1973-1996.
Outside of his influential law career, Justice Levin cherished his family ties and his Jewish roots in Detroit. In a 2002 interview for the G. Robert Vincent Voice Library at Michigan State University, Justice Levin reflected on growing up in a Jewish neighborhood surrounded by Jewish friends and an extended immigrant family where he felt shielded from the antisemitism of his time.
Charles L. Levin is survived by his former wife and best friend, Judge Helene White; his children, Amy (Matt) Levin Ragen, Fredrick Stuart (Marsha) Levin, Benjamin Joseph White Levin and Francesca Rhoda White Levin; and his grandchildren, Jacob Eliot Ragen, Joshua Brooks Ragen and Emily Rose Levin; and siblings Mimi (Charles) Levin Lieber, Daniel (Fay Hartog) Levin, and Joseph (Diana McBroom) Levin.
He was previously married to the late Dr. Patricia Oppenheim Levin Rice. His oldest son, Arthur David Levin, passed away in 2009. He is also survived by a loving extended family and many grateful law clerks.
Interment was at Clover Hill Park Cemetery. Contributions may be made to the Moran-Olsson Exoneree Support Charitable Trust, 1213 Dhu Varren Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48105. Arrangements were by Ira Kaufman Chapel.