MAY 6, 1999
CHIEF JUSTICE WEAVER: I would like to start our program and ask the Honorable John Feikens, who is United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan, to come forward.
When Shakespeare contemplated how the lives of people would be remembered, he said, “The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones.” But as stark and striking as this definition of memory is, we should be kind to the old bard; he was not thinking of using portraits or the ways in which we have memories speak.
Portraiture and the hanging of portraits of our famous people are a way to avoid Shakespeare’s stark alternatives. Yet a portrait has limitations. Perhaps we see in a portrait only what it is that we’d like to see. But with our technology of electronic recording, we can now arrange to have a portrait speak and let it tell us what we should remember.
Let me give you an example. At Hyde Park, the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, now a national monument, in each room of the manse there is a recording made by Eleanor Roosevelt, made after the president’s death, in which she describes in her inimical voice what happened at certain moments in each room. In describing the living room she says, “Now, over there in that big chair, that’s where Franklin sat, and in that big chair next to his is where his mother sat, and here by the fireplace in this little chair this is where I sat.” “One day,” she said, “Franklin was speaking in this room of the impending visit of the King and Queen to our home. He said, ‘Now, when the King of England gets here we should give him a stiff drink,’ and Franklin’s mother said, ‘Oh no, Franklin, we should give him some hot tea.'”
In due course, she continues, “The King and Queen came and as we were seated Franklin said, ‘Your Majesty, when we were thinking of your being here, I said we should give you a stiff drink and my mother said, ‘Oh no, we should give him some hot tea,’ and the King said, ‘That’s what my mother would have said.'”
Now this is my idea of how we should have the portrait speak, but since this portrait of Chuck LEVIN is not yet hooked up electronically, let me say what it could be he said. I should start out by saying that some of you may be unacquainted with the lore that builds up in a courthouse about its judges—lore that may be either fact or fiction. My characterization of that lore in the Michigan Supreme Court is based, I confess, on pure hearsay. With that, let me begin and be the voice of the CHARLES LEVIN portrait. The portrait speaks:
“I want it to be known that my hanging is occurring only on the 60th anniversary of Chuck’s bar mitzvah. Also, I want to brand it as completely untrue that when Helene and I would share a carafe of wine we would read Black’s Law Dictionary to each other.
“There is another unfounded tale that has made the rounds. When then-Chief Justice RILEY had a robing room completely redecorated and carpeted, out of fear that I would spill coffee there, she conducted a series of seminars for me in which I learned how to pour and carry coffee.
“And I’m still looking for the guy who, when after I fell backwards out of my chair while listening to oral argument—parenthetically some said I had fallen asleep which is totally untrue—and then bumped my head against the wall, this guy on the next oral argument day put a crash helmet in my seat. I wonder who that is?”
Well, enough of that. I’ll shut off the recording.
CHARLES LEVIN and I have been close friends for four decades. His brother, Joe, was an associate in my law firm. His son, Fredrick, was a law clerk of mine. Theodore Levin, his father, who was Chief Judge and my mentor when I was first appointed as a United States judge, was a man whom I loved deeply. Chuck’s brothers and sister are my dear friends. Rhoda, his mother, and Theodore live in my heart and memory.
The portrait that we unveil today, and until it is given its permanent place in the halls of the Michigan Supreme Court, pictures a brilliant scholar of the law. Justice LEVIN knows the law and knew how to use it. His opinions say that over and over again. If some of his opinions were a bit lengthy, I suspect it was because he wanted to be sure he had gotten it just right.
Chuck LEVIN is a bold and creative man. When he sought his destiny, that is to be a judge on the high court, he ran into the archaic practice in our state that requires a judicial candidate to be nominated by a political party. When it appeared that he could not get a nomination from one of the political parties, undeterred he organized his own party, had it nominate him, and in that way he successfully achieved his goal.
I had the honor of robing Justice LEVIN when he first took his seat on the Michigan Supreme Court in 1973. Today is the 60th anniversary of his bar mitzvah and again I have the honor of being with him and saluting him as one of Michigan’s great judges.
CHIEF JUSTICE WEAVER: Thank you, Judge Feikens. Now, I call forward the Honorable Avern L. Cohn, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Honored justices of the Michigan Supreme Court, the family of Justice LEVIN, Dan, Mimi, Joe, Arthur, Amy, Fredrick, Mrs. Charles Levin—known in other venues as Judge HELENE WHITE, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this portrait unveiling ceremony. It marks a permanent remembrance of Justice LEVIN’s twenty-four years of service as one of the justices of this high Court and the final arbiter of disputes among the people of Michigan. What we do here today is honor a great justice, the son of a great judge, his late father, Theodore Levin, a long-time member of the court on which I now sit and the patriarch of the Levin family which has contributed so much to the political life of this state.
Today, as we have heard, also marks the 60th anniversary of the day Justice LEVIN became a man and received his first fountain pen. It was sixty years ago today that CHARLES LEVIN, son of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Levin, of 8611 La Salle Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan, was bar mitzvahed at Congregation Shaarey Zedek at the corner of Lawton and West Chicago in Detroit. For those of you of a biblical bent, the Torah portion that day came from Leviticus and the prophetic portion, which the justice personally recited, came from the writings of the profit Ezekiel. It was in the Torah portion that the people of Israel were commanded by God to keep the light continually burning in the tabernacle. This is the light of truth the rabbis say, shining to illuminate the darkness of injustice and discrimination. There is something prophetic in the link between what was recited sixty years ago today in the synagogue and CHARLES LEVIN’s career as a judge, I do believe.
Now, I have known him for sixty-three years. When I first met him, he went by the name of Zeke. Its origins are unknown to me and perhaps during lunch he can explain.
Now, there are two tales of high adventure in Justice LEVIN’s ascendency to the appellate courts in which he sat. The first is told in his 1966 campaign to win a seat on the Michigan Court of Appeals for the first district. The story here is, in essence, the manner in which he made capital of the outstanding rating he received from the merit rating program of the Detroit Bar Association, newly formed by the late Richard Van Dusen and George Bushnell. This story should be memorialized in the annals of the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, and, as a beginning, I have a piece of memorabilia which I would be happy to present to the Society which says, “Compliments of Charles L. Levin for Judge, Court of Appeals, Nonpartisan Ballot, Equal Justice under the Law.” This is from Mr. Riley.
The manner in which he campaigned to be elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1972 as the nominee of the short-lived nonpartisan judicial party is also an exciting tale. It includes, by the way, a lawsuit in federal court in Detroit, civil case number XO-38592 filed July 19, 1972—for history buffs—and I believe Judge Kennedy, who is with us today, was one of the three judges of that court, and as you have heard by forming this party and getting himself on the ballot in that fashion he mooted the need for the three judges to make a decision. So after argument on summary judgment, the case was dismissed.
For professor Maurice Kelman in 19 Wayne L R 253, in an article, A Tale of Two Parties, describes the uniqueness of Justice LEVIN’s efforts to gain a seat on the high court. I am constrained to say that Justice LEVIN’s political efforts suggest that the voters are capable of exercising good judgment in judicial elections.
From Justice LEVIN’s first published opinion in volume 7 of the Michigan Appeals Reports to his last five dissents on December 30, 1996, in volume 453 of the Michigan Reports, Justice LEVIN has displayed scholarship, pragmatism, insight, honesty, courage, and humanity as demonstrated by his willingness to admit that he has sometimes made a mistake and more importantly in the numerous occasions he voted alone in favor of review of a Court of Appeals decision when a majority of his colleagues turned aside an application for leave to appeal. His “back of the volume” writings merit particular attention.
What should be undertaken now is the writing of a judicial biography of Justice LEVIN, focusing on how his life experiences and world outlook—or Weltanschauung, as the Germans put it—shaped his particular jurisprudence. Too often, all we see are biographies of United States Supreme Court justices and their constitutional jurisprudence. I suggest that the smorgasbord of cases that make up the common law which Justice LEVIN has shaped and sometimes argued against in his years on the bench is as important to our well-being as constitutional cases. When written, I hope the book will be titled The Unencumbered Judge.
I had occasion last week while flying from Israel to Detroit to read a book by Professor Robert A. Burt of Yale Law School titled Two Jewish Justices: Outcasts in the Promised Land. In his book, Professor Burt contrasts the judicial philosophies of Justices Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter and why they differed so remarkably in their decision making. Of Frankfurter, Burt said—and I take some liberties—he was too single-minded, an overeager apologist for the existing order, he embraced an attitude that provided no critical distance for him in reaching judgment in contemporary society. This does not describe Justice LEVIN.
Burt described Justice Brandeis’ attitude towards the constitutionality of economic regulatory legislation in the days of the New Deal in contrast to the attitudes of his colleagues as follows—and again, I paraphrase—Brandeis’ colleagues could not begin to comprehend how a reasonable case could be made for these laws. These judges were so deeply imbued with the pieties and prejudices of their comfortable life experiences and status they could not even glimpse the legislation from the perspective of its inheritance. In contrast to Justice Brandeis, they could not readily admit the reality of the other fellow’s predicament. Justice LEVIN throughout his thirty years on the bench has always demonstrated an understanding of the reality of the other fellow’s predicament.
This, is essence, has been his contribution to the people of Michigan and will shine from the aura surrounding the portrait we unveil today. This portrait I submit is a worthy addition to those already hanging in the Supreme Court, particularly in the company of the nineteenth century greats: CAMPBELL, GRAVES, COOLEY, and CHRISTIANCY. Thank you.
CHIEF JUSTICE WEAVER: Thank you very much, Judge Cohn. I now call upon the Honorable JOHN W. FITZGERALD, former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.
I’m John Fitzgerald, late of this Court, and presently a professor of law at Cooley Law School. I was very honored to be asked to speak on the occasion of Justice LEVIN’s portrait presentation. My association with Justice LEVIN goes back some thirty-three years, which for some of you is a short time, but thirty-three years is thirty-three years.
We both served on the newly organized Court of Appeals; those were indeed challenging and exciting days. And the nine of us on that Court—consider that we were nine where twenty-eight now serve—and the precedents established then have served that appellate court well, I believe. Parenthetically, I am one of two surviving members of the original Court of Appeals and have had the privilege of serving on the bench with both Justice LEVIN and Mrs. Levin.
It was in those early days that I came to admire Justice LEVIN’s civility and cordiality. Now, those two words civility and cordiality often mentioned in connection with good judges, take on new meanings when one sits for days and months, and even years, in closed conferences, thrashing out our complex legal issues. Justice LEVIN could be counted on to hear all sides of a complicated question, to object or disagree in an agreeable manner, to express his opinions in a forthright manner.
When Justice LEVIN became a member of the Supreme Court in 1973, I think he assumed the mantle of resident scholar. Yet, in his almost quarter century tenure on the Court he never lost the sense of enormity of the two?fold charge this high Court deals with: To administer an ever-expanding judicial system and to hear and dispense opinions on significant cases.
The contributions to the body of law of this state that Justice LEVIN made are there for all to read. But his contributions go beyond the written word, because those words do not reflect the esteem with which he has long been held by his colleagues and by all acquainted with the jurisprudence of this state.
If I may inject a personal note here, Chuck LEVIN and I were good friends. We liked each other. We understood each other’s foibles and eccentricities. I have long felt that he was in part responsible for my sitting on the Supreme Court. When I was pondering an appointment to the Court by Governor Milliken, Chuck drove after a day on the Court from Lansing to Detroit one evening where I was sitting on the Court of Appeals and truly encouraged me to take the appointment. He felt evidently that my particular turn of mind and my experience would also serve the Court. We became sort of soul brothers. I did take the appointment, of course, and have considered it the pinnacle of my career, made that much more significant for serving with Chuck.
In his years on the Supreme Court, he has served with an outstanding number of justices and the ever-changing personnel with this high Court. During his tenure, he has served with twenty-two justices. That’s almost twenty-five percent of more than one hundred who have served on the Supreme Court—quite a record.
Truly echos of CHARLES LEVIN’s presence on the Michigan Supreme Court will be heard for years to come. He’s made a real contribution. He’s made a difference.
CHIEF JUSTICE WEAVER: Thank you, Justice FITZGERALD. And now I call upon the Honorable James Ryan. He is a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, former justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.
JUSTICE RYAN: Thank you, Madam Chief Justice, and justices of the Court, Rabbi Groner, my distinguished colleagues on the bench and bar, and of course particularly, our honoree, my brother CHARLES LEONARD LEVIN.
Ladies and gentleman, when you’re the fourth in line the risk of redundance is high, and, as it turns out, slightly inevitable. Part of the work—Charles, I think you’ll agree—of the Supreme Court justices is least understood professionally both within the profession and outside it, I think, because it is work conducted out of the public view, work done during the justices’ case conferences. Reference has already been made to those meetings. Virtually all the Court’s collegial decision making is done in these out of public view conferences.
It is work that can be described as belonging in either of two categories. In the first category are those conferences in which the justices consider applications for leave to appeal. At that time there is discussion and voting concerning which cases are to be taken for full review and which are not. And of course if taken, which will be submitted for oral argument and preparation of a written opinion. The second category of conferences I have in mind involves the consideration of opinions that have been written, that have been circulated among the justices, and that have been presented for conference discussion and possible amendment, and maybe even signing.
Of the two categories of meetings, during my tenure at least, it was the former, the so-called commissioners’ report conferences, at which consideration was given to the application for leave to appeal, where there occurred the most spirited, wide-ranging, and substantive discussions. It was at these conferences that each of the justices offered individual judicial and constitutional philosophy, his or her understanding of the jurisprudence, his or her ideas about the wisdom of altering the common law, and views concerning statutory and constitutional interpretation that would generate lively and sometimes forceful discussion.
During my time, the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal in only about eight to ten percent of the cases brought to it. So often, given the stakes, the debate whether to accept the case (and then, if accepted, what to say about it) could divide the justices very sharply. Because this small number of cases usually raised questions for which there was no governing settled precedent, and the cases frequently touched upon principles of judicial philosophy or constitutional theory about which reasonable Supreme Court justices could differ, our discussions could be very long, vigorous, spirited, and, yes, sometimes even argumentative. Therefore, they often carried the risk of personal unpleasantness if the justice prevented him- or herself to yield to that temptation.
Again, if I may be forgiven a personal reference, in the course of my own service with a total of eleven other justices, it was apparent that each Court had a chemistry, it had a culture, and it was a chemistry or culture that was altered with each change in the Court’s composition. Whatever the composition of the Court, the culture of the conference room is determined by the character and personality and the style of the individual justices. To the extent that an individual justice brings to the conference room the qualities of openness, scholarly preparation, intellectual discipline, and, very importantly, patience, the culture and the chemistry of the Court’s collegiality was enhanced and it was enriched.
Our honoree today, CHARLES LEONARD LEVIN, always brought to our conferences, no matter how vigorous and hard and difficult the debate might be, a calm, deliberative and accepting style. He brought an openness to the view of others, a willingness to listen, a patience in hearing argument with which he might have little or no agreement. Always, he brought a willingness to explore the unexplored and a calm, even serene acceptance of deep division when that was inevitable. These qualities, truth to tell, were not gifts brought to the table by all of us.
And although history will care very little, the fact is that my good friend Justice LEVIN and I found ourselves fairly often coming down on opposite sides of the question before the Court. This was not true in most cases, frankly, but it was true in a significant number of the more difficult original questions involving the need to define a principle of law or cases which called into consideration a justice’s fundamental philosophy and understanding of the limits of the judicial functions. In such cases, Justice LEVIN and I, and Justice LEVIN and others on the Court, discussed, debated, and, yes, we argued, sometimes very hard, sometimes very long. For some, and sadly I include myself, the risk of an early rise in temperature was very real. But on all those occasions, and I have in mind at the moment vividly a couple of them, Justice LEVIN’s vigorous defense of his point of view was never intemperate, his arguments never ad hominem, his tone never condescending or belittling, no matter how firmly he was convinced that his opponent at the table was mistaken.
The consequence of all this was a conference room whose culture, tone, civility, and professionalism was significantly higher and richer than it might have been had Justice CHARLES LEVIN not been a participant. The thoroughness of his preparation for these conferences, the consistent depth of his scholarship, his simple and obvious love of the law, his respect for the Supreme Court, and his skill and legal analysis contributed greatly and positively to the quality of our collegial discussions. And of necessity, I think and hope, to the clarity of what we wrote.
But beyond these great strengths, it was the quality of CHARLES LEVIN’s character, the charity of his personality, and his adherence to the canon that one may disagree without being disagreeable that were primarily responsible for the elevated and I think enviable quality of the Court conferences in which I participated with him for ten years.
If I may be permitted a closing and personal reference, it is a measure of Justice LEVIN’s professionalism that today he has extended to me, perhaps the most vigorous of his philosophical opponents during our service together, the privilege of participating in this, his very personal ceremony. I count it, Charles, a singular honor to have this small part in calling attention to your huge contribution to our state, and, yes, our nation’s jurisprudence, and to invite attention to the major part you played in the history of the Michigan Supreme Court. I cherish the privilege of sharing in this presentation of your portrait to the institution both of us love. Thank you.
CHIEF JUSTICE WEAVER: Thank you, Judge Ryan. I hope you will forgive me the liberty of the Chief to be able at this time to acknowledge for Justice LEVIN the fact that all his former colleagues on the last Court are present here today, and I would like to ask Justice BOYLE to stand and Justice MALLETT and Justice RILEY.
Those justices combined with Justice CAVANAGH, Justice BRICKLEY, and myself were the last Court on which Justice LEVIN sat. And Chuck you should know that we do indeed miss the calls from Southfield, and along I-96, Howell, waiting patiently for our bagels and our delicious rye bread to arrive—and the many good stories that we had. Judge Ryan reminded us of the conferences that the Court does in fact have almost every week in Lansing for those good discussions. And again, as I repeat, Chuck is a scholar and a gentleman.
Now, I would turn then to call upon the Honorable Dennis Archer, who is mayor of the city of Detroit, former justice of the Supreme Court.
THE HONORABLE DENNIS ARCHER: May it please the Court, to my former colleagues and members of the bench and bar, the Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, and to my colleague, and friend, and brother, Mr. Justice CHARLES LEVIN, I am very proud to participate in the unveiling of an official portrait of my former colleague.
As a trial lawyer I utilized Judge LEVIN’s opinions during his tenure on the Michigan Court of Appeals whether authored by him or his concurrence with the majority opinion. I also utilized his opinions whether majority or dissent after his elevation and election to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Later, as a colleague on the Michigan Supreme Court, Justice LEVIN and I often traveled together to different events since we lived in the same Detroit neighborhood. We would have spirited discussions regarding our respective opinions and the timeliness with which they were offered. His opinions were written in prose, easy to follow, fair, and they demonstrate his steadfast belief in the United States and Michigan Constitutions. Justice LEVIN always looked for all the facts in each of the cases that were before us so that the applicable law and standards could be set.
I was honored to serve with Justice CHARLES LEVIN on the Michigan Supreme Court, and I consider it an even higher honor to have him as a friend. Much has been said by those who have preceded me and my predecessor, James Ryan, now Judge of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, described amply the discussions that took place in the conference room. Never have I been exposed to such collegiality with the members of the Court in which I served at that time. The discussions were indeed lively and vigorous, but always with respect—respect for each other and more importantly respect for the people of the state of Michigan.
I can tell you as a person who is a very strong and proud member of the Democratic party that there were never any discussions regarding Republican or Democratic issues. They were always focused on the law. That is the pride of the institution that I served with and the members of the bench with whom I had the pleasure of working with. Justice LEVIN, as Judge Ryan has amply described, is a very brilliant scholar, a compassionate person and always willing to listen. Unlike my predecessor, however, Justice LEVIN and I signed a lot of opinions together because we saw eye to eye on a lot of issues as they related to the law—always following the law. So I want to thank you Mr. Justice for the privilege of being with you and to be able to say a few words because so much has been said by so many people greater than I that cover the waterfront. Thank you.
CHIEF JUSTICE WEAVER: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I would like to acknowledge one more of the former colleagues who is present and I think it’s quite a tribute that so many of the people that Justice LEVIN served with, of course who are still here, are present and I would like to acknowledge the former Chief Justice THOMAS BRENNAN.
And now I would like to call upon Janet E. Findlater who is a professor at Wayne State University and a former law clerk for Justice LEVIN.
PROFESSOR FINDLATER: May it please the Court, I am deeply honored to appear before you today at the celebration of Justice LEVIN, my former boss and my dear friend. This is my second appearance before this Court. My first was twenty-four years ago when I was Justice LEVIN’s law clerk. I stood by Justice LEVIN’s side as he moved my admission to the State Bar. At the conclusion of his remarks, THOMAS GILES KAVANAGH who was then Chief Justice of this Court thanked Justice LEVIN for his kind words on my behalf and then he told Justice LEVIN that the Court would take his motion under advisement. I hope things go better for me and Justice LEVIN today.
I’ve been asked to speak on behalf of the dozens of law clerks who worked with Justice LEVIN during his twenty-three years on this Court, and I see that many of them are here with us today. It’s a privilege to do so. I’m confident that despite the years that separate us we, as LEVIN law clerks, have much in common. For example, every law clerk quickly learns that no matter where Justice LEVIN is in the world, he is only a phone call away.
I clerked for Justice LEVIN in the mid 70’s before he had a cell phone. So he was somewhat constrained by his need to find a telephone booth, but he was always up to the challenge. I remember when he took Arthur to Lakeland to see the Tigers in spring training. There he was every day in a phone booth asking us about our progress on our work and describing to us the action on the field.
I’ve been told that in his thirty years on the bench Justice LEVIN wrote nearly 1,500 published opinions. Now, I suspect that some of you are thinking about all those pages in the Michigan Reports. Let me assure you that we, his law clerks, are thinking about all those footnotes.
As law clerks we learned so much from Justice LEVIN. He invested in us. He is a great teacher as well as a great scholar. Of the many gifts of learning we received from Justice LEVIN, let me share with you just a few. From the piles of boxes in our offices, we learned Justice LEVIN’s great respect for the common-law tradition of deciding each case on its facts after a careful review of the entire record. From the hundreds of opinions that he wrote, and more than half of them were concurring or dissenting opinions, we learned to honor the legal process, especially the responsibility of the members of the Court through written opinions to explain what they are doing and not just do it. On the importance of well-reasoned articulate opinions, Justice LEVIN often said, “If an opinion won’t write, maybe it’s an opinion that shouldn’t be written.”
We learned from Justice LEVIN to be mindful, if not wary of the authority and the power of the state and to respect the critical role that the Court plays in protecting from state power the rights and liberties of individuals, and we all learned of the need to temper justice with mercy from Justice LEVIN’s deep compassion, his understanding that there but for the grace of God go I.
In closing, let me acknowledge that being a LEVIN law clerk is a life sentence, but of the best kind. We all have tremendous respect for Justice LEVIN’s intellect, his wisdom, and his integrity and we all have great affection for him. Justice LEVIN is not just our former boss; he continues to be our mentor and our friend. He is a kind, gentle, and caring man. All of us are blessed to know him. Thank you, Justice LEVIN.
CHIEF JUSTICE WEAVER: Thank you, Professor Findlater. And now for the time that brought us all here together the presentation of the portrait, I would like to call on Fredrick S. Levin, son of Justice LEVIN and attorney in Los Angeles.
MR. LEVIN: May it please the Court, justices of the Supreme Court, Mayor Archer, and other friends and family, on behalf of my family I thank you for the great honor that you have bestowed upon my father, and by association, on all of us.
As we commemorate my father’s career, I want to look for a moment at the beginning. He took the oath of office for the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1966. I was three. I imagine many of you were at the ceremony. My father was wearing the judicial robes for the first time. Upon seeing my dad in the robes, I stood and shouted, “Look, Daddy’s wearing a dress!” Everyone started to laugh and I was quickly led away.
Clearly, I didn’t understand what the judicial robes meant. Now, some thirty years later, my father has taught me a lot about what the robes mean and I would like to share with you what he has taught me. My father required those around him to learn patience. Getting dad to leave the house on time, or for that matter to circulate an opinion to colleagues, was like getting ketchup out of a bottle—You could shake the bottle all you wanted, but the ketchup was only going to come when it was good and ready.
You also had to be patient with my dad’s way of thinking through a problem. Those of you who know my dad, know that he does not always get directly to the point. My father always had a point, but to get to it you had to be willing to go with him on an often bewildering journey through the zigzags of his mind. The end was usually rewarded with a new idea that enlightens, but the journey could be exhausting.
By forcing us to be patient with him, he also taught us to be patient with each other and the law. Like my father, the law does not yield its answers simply or directly, you have to struggle with it, you have to be willing to take the bewildering journey.
The next thing my dad taught me was to pay attention to the facts. Growing up in the CHARLES LEVIN house was a bit unusual. The dinner conversation rarely focused on sports or light trivia. The usual conversation was dad telling us about the case he had heard that day. My father was careful never to tell us what he thought. He would only tell us the facts of the case. He would then go around the table asking each of us to give our opinion; thus, by focusing on the facts, he taught Arthur, Amy, and me to form and advocate our own points of view. A skill that has served us all well. But dad didn’t just focus on the facts at home. Those of you who clerked with my dad or read his opinions know how careful he was to study and fairly state the record on appeal.
My father taught the importance of independent thought. Most of you know the story of my father’s initial election to the Supreme Court, the formation of the nonpartisan judicial party, a name that poked well-deserved fun at judicial elections in Michigan. Once on the bench, my father was the ultimate contra-majoritarian because he had a knack for seeing things in a unique light.
I would like to share with you my own such experience when I was about nine years old. At one of the dinner time conversations, my father presented the facts of the case that years later when I went to law school, became known to me as Moning v Alfono, the sling shot liability case. A few weeks after my discussion, my father came to me and told me how influential my thoughts had been in helping him come to a decision. He had carefully considered my argument and then written his opinion to go the other way.
My father taught the value of the good dissent. A little research on WESTLAW reveals that his dissents have become the law in thirteen states.
Finally, my dad taught the importance of having the courage to do the right thing. Many of you may remember that my father faced a very difficult case in the early 1980s in which he initially cast his vote one way and then later changed his vote. Many people were critical of the reversal as showing indecision and weakness. I, on the other hand, had never been prouder of my father because he had the courage to do what he thought was right, even though he knew it would be embarrassing and difficult personally. The ability to confess error is rare especially in proud and successful people, yet it is a particularly important quality for persons who exercise power to have. My dad’s lesson in doing the right thing will always be with me.
My father’s portrait, which I now have the pleasure to present, will invoke different thoughts and memories for everyone who sees it. For me, I will remember the things he taught, his love for the law and its ability to make a practical difference in people’s lives, and how proud I am that he was able to practice the art of judging with so much skill and with so much heart.
CHIEF JUSTICE WEAVER: Now, I call the artist, Mr. Joseph Maniscalco forward for the unveiling of the portrait.
MR. MANISCALCO: Your Honor, Chief Justice WEAVER, it has given me great pleasure and great honor to present the Court with Justice LEVIN of the Supreme Court. Thank you.
CHIEF JUSTICE WEAVER: Thank you. And now, Justice LEVIN, it’s your turn.
JUSTICE LEVIN: May it please the Court, thank you. Thank you, Chief Justice WEAVER, and Justices BRICKLEY, CAVANAGH, KELLY, TAYLOR, CORRIGAN, and YOUNG for accommodating my desire to have the portrait presentation in Detroit. I was enriched and sustained by the years serving with Jim and Mike, and also during the short time I served with Betty.
And thank you, Judges Feikens, Cohn, and Ryan, and Chief Justice FITZGERALD, and your Honor, Mayor Archer for your friendship, for agreeing to speak at this portrait presentation, and for, I modestly agree, your insightful remarks. You have all been most generous, I am overwhelmed, and I am most grateful. Each of you in different ways have encouraged, enabled, and strengthened me in the judicial role I sought and in discharging my responsibilities. I’ve learned many good things from each of you and treasure our friendship.
And thank you Jan and Fredrick for your extraordinary friendship and love and for participation today and for your generous remarks, and also thank you Rabbi and Mrs. Groner for enriching these proceedings by your presence with us today.
I wish also to thank my law clerks, a number of whom are here today. Some of them have traveled long distances to honor me with their presence. The law clerks were one of the best parts of the job. Law clerks are generally twenty-five or twenty-six years of age. They were twenty-five or twenty-six when I was forty on the Court of Appeals, and also twenty-five or twenty-six when I was approaching seventy on the Supreme Court. They all brought fine minds, enthusiasm, energy, a fresh point of view, and did their best to keep me focused. I owed them all—I owe them all for the year or two they deferred entering upon the practice of law—for the long hours of hard work, loyalty, tenacity, patience, and for letting me become part of their lives and for what they added to my life.
I also wish to thank my secretaries: Kay Mazey Miller, who retired many years ago; James E. Ted Brown, since deceased; Sherry Handley; and my most recent secretaries Sandra Murtha, and Denise Champion who patiently or even impatiently endured my idiosyncracies, umpteenth drafts, still further corrections, and night and weekend hours. It couldn’t have been done without them.