Alan Dershowitz

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Alan M. Dershowitz is Felix Frankfurter Professor at Harvard Law School, specializing in civil rights and criminal defense. Time magazine, in addition to including him in the cover story on the "50 Faces for the Future," called him a "legal star" and "the top lawyer of last resort in the country—a sort of judicial St. Jude." [1]

He will take issues across the ideological spectrum. Active in the American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, he is also a columnist for Frontpage Magazine. He is a strong supporter of the State of Israel.[2]


Dershowitz was appointed to the Harvard Law School faculty at age 25 and became a full professor at age 28, the youngest in the school's history. Since that time, he has taught courses in criminal law, psychiatry and law, constitutional litigation, civil liberties and violence, comparative criminal law, legal ethics, human rights, the Bible and justice, great trials, neurobiology and the law, and a collaborative philosophy course called "Thinking About Thinking."

He is highly regarded as a teacher. "In a series of recent moot courts, he has defended Jesus (hung jury), Abraham (acquitted) and Hamen (convicted but sentence commuted to life imprisonment)." He both makes law accessible to the public, and also is well-known for using media to support his cases. He was the first law professor to write regularly for the New York Times in its Week in Review, op-ed and Book Review sections, and hosted a radio talk show about the law, for which he received the 1996 Freedom of Speech Award from the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts.[1]

Criminal defense

Dershowitz has been called the "winningest appellate criminal defense lawyer in history." Over the course of his 35-year career as a lawyer, Dershowitz has won more than 100 cases—a remarkable record for a part-time litigator who handles primarily criminal appeals, which generally have a very low rate of reversal. Dershowitz takes half of his cases on a pro bono basis and continues to represent numerous indigent defendants and causes.

Geraldo Rivera called him "[B]eyond a doubt… the smartest lawyer I know," while William F. Buckley Jr. has described him as a "deeply thoughtful man," "a master of the law," and "a masterful advocate."


Dershowitz is the author of 27 non-fiction works and two novels.

Civil rights

In 1983, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith presented him with the William O. Douglas First Amendment Award for his "compassionate eloquent leadership and persistent advocacy in the struggle for civil and human rights." In presenting the award, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel said: "If there had been a few people like Alan Dershowitz during the 1930s and 1940s, the history of European Jewry might have been different."

Rabbi Irving Greenberg included Dershowitz, along with Wiesel, as prime examples of "modern-day rabbis" who teach Torah in a secular context. The New York Criminal Bar Association honored Dershowitz for his "outstanding contribution as a scholar and dedicated defender of human rights."


In his book, Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijcking our Declaration of Independence, he continues to express his concern about the Christian Right's Dominionist faction is trying to convert the United States into a Christian theocracy. One of his arguments is that they misinterpret the Declaration of Independence to find theocratic arguments to override the separation of church and state in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. [3]

International conflict

He questions whether the Geneva Conventions remain relevant in today's conflicts. [4]


He does not renounce the use of torture in all situations, but, if it is used, it should be under the control of warrants from the highest level of government. "If torture is going to be administered as a last resort in the ticking-bomb case, to save enormous numbers of lives, it ought to be done openly, with accountability, with approval by the president of the United States or by a Supreme Court justice."[5]

Israel-Palestine Conflict

He defended Israeli actions in the 2009 Gaza conflict, saying "Israel's actions in Gaza are justified under international law, and Israel should be commended for its self-defense against terrorism. Article 51 of the United Nations Charter reserves to every nation the right to engage in self-defense against armed attacks. The only limitation international law places on a democracy is that its actions must satisfy the principle of proportionality."[6]

Posting in the Jerusalem Post, he criticized the UN Goldstone Report on Gaza.

First, its primary conclusions are entirely false as a matter of demonstrable fact. Second, it defames one of the most moral military forces in the world, along with one of the most responsive legal systems and one of the freest nations in the world when it comes to dissent. Third, it destroys the credibility of "international human rights" and proves that this honorable concept has been hijacked for political purposes directed primarily against one nation - Israel.

But fourth, and most important, it has set back prospects of peace by making it far more difficult for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.[7]


He has said radical Islamic groups have waged lawfare in U.S. courts, exerting a chilling effect on speech. "The UK is notorious for its plaintiff-friendly libel laws which have been accused of being "contemptuous of free speech" and making a "mockery of British justice" and because they silence writers through expensive litigation.

But even as Britain attempts to prevent frivolous libel suits, the battle continues in the US. American courts are being utilised by radical Islamic groups to stifle writers through "lawfare" – the use of law as a weapon of warfare – a tactic that has had a "chilling effect" on free speech. In contrast to the British laws, American libel law favours defendants. However, plaintiffs in the US have learned to sue their critics for defamation, not with the intent to win the case, but with the hope of imposing an unaffordably high cost on criticism of their actions."[8] This is a slightly unusual use of "lawfare", which tends to be reserved for actions against governments or officials, and is closer to the usual use of Strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP).



  • In 1979 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for his work in human rights.
  • In 1981 he was invited to China as a guest of the government to lecture and consult on their criminal code. He returned in 2001 to lecture to lawyers and law students.
  • In 1987 he was named the John F. Kennedy-Fulbright Lecturer and toured New Zealand University lecturing about the Bill of Rights. In 1988 he served as Visiting Professor of Law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and lectured in Israel on civil liberties during times of crisis. In 1990 he was invited to Moscow to lecture on human rights, and the following year was selected as a Father of the Year and a recipient of the Golden Plate Award.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Biographical Statement, Alan Dershowitz
  2. Rachel Pomerance (7 February 2005), Alan Dershowitz defends Israel at polarized Columbia University, Jewish Telegraph Agency
  3. Alan Dershowitz (2007), Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijcking our Declaration of Independence, Wiley, ISBN 9780470084557
  4. Mike Whitney (9 June 2004), "Defender of the Lash & the Cattle Prod: Alan Dershowitz, Professor of Torture", Counterpunch
  5. Wolf Blitzer (3 March 2003), "Dershowitz: Torture could be justified", CNN
  6. Alan Dershowitz (2 January 2009), "Israel's Policy Is Perfectly 'Proportionate': Hamas are the real war criminals in this conflict", Wall Street Journal
  7. Alan Dershowitz (22 September 2009), "Double Standard Watch: The Goldstone report is a barrier to peace", Jerusalem Post
  8. Alan Dershowitz and Elizabeth Samson (9 February 2010), "The chilling effect of 'lawfare' litigation", Guardian