Carl Auerbach’s century-long life had a remarkable number of chapters, each brushing up against some of the most consequential figures and events of the 20th century.
The law professor was a confidant of Hubert Humphrey, friend of Walter Mondale, brief boss of Richard Nixon and a key player in the passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act. He aided German resistance members as a U.S. intelligence officer during World War II and fought, as dean, for the building that would modernize the University of Minnesota Law School.
Auerbach, who spent his later years in the San Diego area, died at age 100 on April 6 after a short illness. A scholar of administrative and constitutional law, Auerbach taught nearly until the end — a career spanning 66 years.
“He believed very much in the ability of the law to improve human life,” said Robert Stein, a professor and former dean of the U’s Law School.
His legal know-how earned him a significant spot in history. During 1957 deliberations over the first Civil Rights Act of the modern era, lawmakers in Washington deadlocked over whether Southern juries could adequately enforce provisions barring discrimination at the ballot box.
Then a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Auerbach penned a legal fix allowing the government to compel compliance either through juries or a judge. The change, promoted by Humphrey at the Capitol, was considered crucial to passage of the bill.
“If the new law works … your intellectual role in its enactment will have been a major factor,” then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson wrote in a letter to Auerbach.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Auerbach headed to Washington after law school and became general counsel of the Office of Price Administration — a wartime agency combating inflation — where Nixon spent a brief time as an attorney.
His liberal, anti-communist views earned him an invite in 1947 to the founding meeting of the Americans for Democratic Action, formed as an alternative to other liberal groups with communist sympathies. Notables there included then-Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey, whose subsequent friendship with Auerbach would extend through several presidential bids.
“When you see [John. F. Kennedy] on TV reading statistics on how poorly farmers and workers are doing you’d think he was a professor up on Mars. Just statistics,” Auerbach told the New York Times during the 1960 primaries. “When Humphrey does the same thing, your heart bleeds.”
Auerbach joined the University of Minnesota Law School in 1961, serving as dean for much of the 1970s. He spearheaded an arduous campaign to fund moving the school from its cramped facilities to a new building.
“He would give me and people like me lists of people to call in the Legislature. And every day we would dutifully call,” said former Vice President Walter Mondale, calling Auerbach one of “the most important figures in the development” of the school.
Auerbach was outspoken on many issues, such as supporting the Vietnam War as it tore apart the DFL Party and ignited college campuses. “One thing he was his entire life was not afraid to engage publicly, no matter how popular or unpopular his views,” said his son, Rick Auerbach.
Auerbach left Minnesota to teach at the University of San Diego in the 1980s.
His passion for politics was shared by his first wife, Laura, who rose to prominence herself as a Minneapolis mayoral aide and speech writer for two Minnesota governors. She died in 1988, and Auerbach later remarried. Auerbach is survived by his daughter, Linda Auerbach Allderdice, son, Rick, and two grandchildren.