Alan Dershowitz

From Academic Kids

Alan Dershowitz on
Alan Dershowitz on Democracy Now!

Alan Morton Dershowitz (born September 1, 1938) is a Jewish-American political figure and criminal law professor at Harvard Law School, known for his extensive published works, support for Zionism and Israel and work as an attorney in several high-profile law cases.

Dershowitz was born in Brooklyn, graduated from Yeshiva University high school and Brooklyn College. At Yale Law School, he was first in his class and editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. After clerking for Chief Judge David Bazelon and Justice Arthur Goldberg, he was appointed to the Harvard Law School faculty at age 25 and became a full professor at age 28, then the youngest in the history of Harvard University (this record has since been surpassed by Noam Elkies).

In 1972, Dershowitz attempted to discredit the chairman of the Israel League for Human Rights, Israel Shahak, who had sharply criticized Israeli treatment towards Palestinians. Shahak was in the process of challenging contested election results for the chairmanship of the Israel League through courts. Dershowitz claimed the judge in the matter, Judge Lovenburg, had ruled that Shahak was properly unseated and challenged anyone to provide evidence to the contrary. In response, Noam Chomsky cited the court documents and claimed the court opined the elections had not been held properly, no conclusions or actions were to be drawn from it, and that Shahak and his colleagues were to continue to function as "those who now direct" the league. The incident created a lasting personal miasma between the intellectuals. Chomsky in recalling the incident in a 1997 book about his life disparaged Dershowitz by calling him a "Stalinist-style thug".

In 1977, Dershowitz handled the appeal of porn star Harry Reems who had been convicted of conspiracy to distribute obscenity, based on his acting in the movie Deep Throat. The conviction was overturned.

In 1983 the Jewish advocacy group Anti-Defamation League awarded Dershowitz the William O. Douglas First Amendment Award for his "compassionate eloquent leadership and persistent advocacy in the struggle for civil and human rights." Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who presented the award, was quoted as saying, "If there had been a few people like Alan Dershowitz during the 1930s and 1940s, the history of European Jewry might have been different."

He successfully defended Claus von Bülow in 1984 on a charge of attempting to murder his wife with an injection of insulin, a case dramatized in the film Reversal of Fortune (1990) starring Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, and Ron Silver as Dershowitz.

Dershowitz worked on the legal defense team of boxer Mike Tyson, who was convicted of rape in 1992. He was also a member of the legal defense team ("Dream Team") for O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted in 1995 of double homicide despite overwhelming evidence pointing towards guilt.

Dershowitz has incited controversy by advocating the issuing of warrants for the torture of suspected terrorists. He has said that in "ticking bomb" cases — situations in which "a captured terrorist who knows of an imminent large-scale threat refuses to disclose it" — the use of torture would be justified in order to save many innocent lives. Other controversial positions include Dershowitz's comments expressing his disregard for the human rights claims of Palestinian refugees, and Dershowitz's accusations that faculty members at Columbia University encourage terrorism.

In the early 2000s Dershowitz was asked to leave The Last Word radio show on Ireland's Today FM when during a live phone in-link he began verbally abusing journalist Robert Fisk and interrupting attempts by Fisk to speak. The presenter of the show, Eamon Dunphy, previously a fan of Dershowitz, pronounced himself "perplexed" by what he said were Dershowitz's attempts to silence someone he disagreed with. Radio listeners, many of them critics of Fisk, rang the show to complain about Dershowitz's behaviour, accusing him of "bullying" and "bigotry."

In September 2003, shortly after the publication of Dershowitz's The Case for Israel, Norman Finkelstein accused its author of plagiarism, noting that dozens of quotations in that book resembled, without attribution, passages quoted by Joan Peters in her From Time Immemorial — itself a work that Finkelstein and others had criticized, harshly, for poor scholarship. See Dershowitz-Finkelstein affair for more information.

Dershowitz has recently written about Saddam Hussein's upcoming trial.


  • 2004: Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights
  • 2004: America on Trial: inside the legal battles that transformed our nation
  • 2003: America Declares Independence
  • 2003: The Case for Israel (ISBN 047146502X)
  • 2002: Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age
  • 2002: Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the threat, responding to the challenge
  • 2001: Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000
  • 2001: Letters to a Young Lawyer
  • 2000: The Genesis of Justice: ten stories of biblical injustice that led to the Ten Commandments and modern law
  • 1999: Just Revenge (fiction)
  • 1998: Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the emerging constitutional crisis
  • 1997: The Vanishing American Jew: in search of Jewish identity for the next century
  • 1996: Reasonable Doubts: The Criminal Justice System and the O.J. Simpson Case (ISBN 0684830213)
  • 1994: The Abuse Excuse: and other cop-outs, sob stories, and evasions of responsibility
  • 1994: The Advocate's Devil (fiction)
  • 1992: Contrary to Popular Opinion
  • 1991: Chutzpah
  • 1988: Taking Liberties: a decade of hard cases, bad laws, and bum raps
  • 1985: Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case
  • 1982: The Best Defense
  • 1973: In Defense of Shahak, Boston Globe


  • Alan Dershowitz: "Foolish liberals who are trying to read the Second Amendment out of the Constitution by claiming it's not an individual right [are] courting disaster by encouraging others to use the same means to eliminate portions of the Constitution they don't like." - Dan Gifford in a 1995 Tennessee Law Review article, "The Conceptual Foundations of Angloamerican Jurisprudence in Religion and Reason", attributes the origins of this quote to a 1994 phone interview.

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