Alan Dershowitz

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Alan Dershowitz in 2009

Alan Dershowitz (born September 1, 1938) is an American lawyer and former law professor known for his work in U.S. constitutional law and American criminal law. From 1964 to 2013, he taught at Harvard Law School, where he was appointed as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law in 1993. Dershowitz is a regular media contributor, political commentator, and legal analyst, and has worked on a number of high-profile legal cases.


  • In representing criminal defendants—especially guilty ones—it is often necessary to take the offensive against the government: to put the government on trial for its misconduct. In law, as in sports, the best defense is often a good offense.
  • I have had sex with one woman since the day I met Jeffrey Epstein. I challenge David Boies to say under oath that he’s only had sex with one woman during that same period of time. He has an abnormal amount of chutzpah to attack me and challenge my perfect, perfect sex life during the relevant period of time
  • The courtroom oath—to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—is applicable only to witnesses... because the American justice system is built on a foundation of not telling the whole entire truth.
    • Alan Dershowitz, The Best Defense (New York: Vintage), 1983-5-12, p. xiv.
  • As one civil-liberties lawyer, who is concerned about the sometimes vigilante attitude toward accused rapists, puts it: "Some people regard rape as so heinous an offense that they would not even regard innocence as a defense."
  • The First Amendment is not limited to the right to be right; it also enshrines the right to be wrong.
    • “The Wrong Response to Holtzman”, New York Times, Dec. 30, 1987
  • There’s no question. My biggest enemies are the hard left. The hard left poses a far greater danger to the American future than the hard right. I’m not worried about a few dozen people with Swastikas who want to replace the Jews, because they’re our past. They have no resonance on the University campuses today. But the hard, hard left? Anti-Semitism, anti-Christianity, intolerance for speech, it’s the future. These are our leaders… And that’s why we have to worry much more about what’s going on, on university campuses, than in Charlottesville.
    • Interview by Dennis Prager in No Safe Spaces 2019 documentary. Clip from film published on Feb 12, 2018, [1]
  • It was Lavrentiy Beria who told Stalin,‘show me the man, and I’ll find your crime.’ You can go through the federal criminal code and find crimes that virtually any businessman, any politician has committed. It is so easy to get a warrant. It is so easy to persuade a judge to give you a wiretap warrant. That simply doesn’t protect American citizens, and any civil libertarian who was exposed to what’s going on here today — if Hillary Clinton were the subject — would be taking exactly the opposite position.
    • Interview over Michael Cohen, MSNBC, May 3, 2018, hosted by Steve Kornacki. Christian Datoc, “Dershowitz Explodes: ‘I Don’t Want To Live In A Police State,” The Daily Caller, May 3, 2018 [2]
  • I think we are moving closer and closer to the surveillance state where phone calls are tapped, where emails are secured without a real basis. Seeking wiretaps on lawyers’ offices and search warrants and subpoenas for lawyers, email files, unless they have very serious evidence of very serious crimes. Campaign contributions don’t qualify for the kind of crime that should justify the wiretapping of a lawyer.
    • Interview over Michael Cohen, MSNBC, May 3, 2018, hosted by Steve Kornacki. [3]
  • I am a skeptic about everything, including God and atheism. I am not certain about issues of cosmology.… I am more certain that the miraculous stories that form the basis of most religious beliefs are myths. Yet I respect the Bible and enjoy reading and teaching it. Indeed, I find it even more fascinating as a human creation than as a divine revelation. I consider myself a committed Jew, but I do not believe that being a Jew requires belief in the supernatural.… Indeed, it is while praying that I experience my greatest doubts about God, and it is while looking at the stars that I make the leap of faith.… If there is a governing force, He (or She or It) is certainly not in touch with those who purport to be speaking on His behalf.
    • "Taking Disbelief Out of the Closet", Free Inquiry, 19(3), p. 7, Summer 1999.
  • I have no doubt that if an actual ticking bomb situation were to arise, our law enforcement authorities would torture. The real debate is whether such torture should take place outside of our legal system or within it. The answer to this seems clear: If we are to have torture, it should be authorized by the law.
    • "Is There a Torturous Road to Justice?", The Los Angeles Times, 2001-11-08
  • Here is my proposal. Israel should announce an immediate unilateral cessation in retaliation against terrorist attacks. This moratorium would be in effect for a short period, say four or five days, to give the Palestinian leadership an opportunity to respond to the new policy. It would also make it clear to the world that Israel is taking an important step in ending what has become a cycle of violence. Following the end of the moratorium, Israel would institute the following new policy if Palestinian terrorism were to resume. It will announce precisely what it will do in response to the next act of terrorism. For example, it could announce the first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings.
    • "New response to Palestinian terrorism", The Jerusalem Post, 2002-03-11
  • Dershowitz: The Israeli military then did an analysis, and they discovered, of course, that when they dropped that bomb and killed those people, they had no idea that those people were in the building, and the people who made the decision to drop the bomb were criticized and disciplined for it. The point I make is, when they knew, for sure, that family members were there, they withheld doing it. That doesn't deny the fact that on occasion they will accidentally make a decision that's wrong. The difference is deliberateness, willfulness…
    Norman Finkelstein: …That was a nice fairy tale, dropping a 1 ton bomb on a densely populated civilian neighborhood in Gaza, and they had no idea that civilians would be there. And then he goes on to fantasy #2, that those who did it were disciplined. Really, Mr. Dershowitz? I'd love the evidence for that. I mean, if I could get $10,000 for every one of your fraudulent statements…
  • And any civil libertarian who was exposed to what’s going on here today — if Hillary Clinton were the subject — would be taking exactly the opposite position. There is so much hypocrisy, partisan hypocrisy out there. I don’t mind if conservatives take the view we ought to trust government or former prosecutors take the view we ought to trust government. My gripe is against civil libertarians and criminal defense lawyers, people who are always on the side of challenging the government. The ACLU has suddenly lost its way and they've forgotten what they’ve been preaching for 50 years because it is Donald Trump they’re after.
    • Interview over the case of Michael Cohen, MSNBC, May 3, 2018, hosted by Steve Kornacki. Christian Datoc, “Dershowitz Explodes: ‘I Don’t Want To Live In A Police State,” The Daily Caller, May 3, 2018 [4]
  • You will find that the number of Israeli casualties among civilians exceeds the number of Palestinian casualties among (pause) innocent civilians who were noncombatants and not involved in any way in terrorism, and were killed by the Israelis, as distinguished from being killed by Palestinian (pause) terrorists as collaborators! That is simply a fact-I know of no source that disputes that!
  • The threat of mutually assured destruction worked for the United States during the Cold War because it had proved its willingness to drop nuclear bombs on enemy cities at the end of World War II. It might work less well for Israel, because the Israeli Air Force has never deliberately targeted a large civilian population center, and its leaders have said its morality would not permit it do so.
    • Preemption: A knife that cuts both ways, p. 100 (published 2007-2-17).
  • You know, being black doesn’t give you a license to call people racist any more than being Jewish gives you license to call people anti-Semitic.
    • Fox & Friends Weekend, Aug 6, 2017, responding to Congresswoman Maxine Waters
  • That is why a criminal trial is not a search for truth. Scientists search for truth. Philosophers search for morality. A criminal trial searches for only one result: proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some -- those who cannot leave on their own -- should be counted among the innocent victims. If the media were to adopt this "continuum," it would be informative to learn how many of the "civilian casualties" fall closer to the line of complicity and how many fall closer to the line of innocence. Every civilian death is a tragedy, but some are more tragic than others.
    • "'Civilian casualty'? That's a gray area", Los Angeles Times, 2006-07-22

Shouting Fire: Civil liberties in a Turbulent Age (2002)


Little, Brown and Company, Boston, New York, London, 2002

  • Rights come from human experience, particularly experiences with injustice… In a word, rights come from wrongs.
    • p. 4
  • Southern intellectuals also invoked economic and political arguments in support of slavery. They pointed to the dreadful situation of the ‘free laborers’ in the North and throughout Europe, and the exploitative nature of industrial capitalism. The slave owner felt a moral obligation toward the slave and had an economic stake in his continues welfare, since the slave was valuable property… As far as the right of every slave to be a free laborer, they mocked this argument as the right to be ‘free to beg, steal and starve.’
    • p. 24
  • For those who believe in the inerrancy and absoluteness of natural law, both sides cannot be right. But the reality is that there may indeed be both a right to life and a right to choose, just as there may be a right to life and a right of individual or societal self-defense.
    • p. 28
  • If there can be agreement that certain rights are essential to reduce the chances of perfect injustice, that constitutes the beginning of a solid theory of rights.
    • p. 34
  • I believe that experience demonstrates that a democratic society that recognizes and enforces these basic rights—uncensored expression, freedom of conscience, due process, democracy, and equal protection of the laws—is preferable to a society that does not. That is my case for rights. That is why I have a strong preference for rights.
    • p. 49
  • But rights are not, as Justice Robert Jackson once reminded us, like a limited railroad ticket: good for this train at this day only. They are designed for all people and for an enduring period of time.
    • p. 74
  • The Meares-Kahan essay begins with a historical error. The rights about which they speak did not grow exclusively out of an effort to remedy institutionalized racism. Rights do have histories, and the right of every American to be secure against unlawful police intrusion grew out of a long history of governmental abuse against disempowered people of all backgrounds.
    • pp. 74-75
  • But ‘group rights’ is an oxymoron. Groups, especially those with increasing political power, have interests and agendas, but they may not implement them by ignoring the rights of individuals, especially those within these groups who are disempowered and despised.
    • p. 76
  • If those who are asked to go home after 11:00 P.M. willingly do so, there is no constitutional violation. The conflict occurs precisely because some individuals refuse to consent. It is their rights that come into conflict with the interests of the majority. It is no answer to say they consented, unless we accept the proposition—rejected by all rights theories—that a majority can consent for an unwilling minority.
    • p. 76
  • Rights are traditionally directed against governmental abuses. They are designed to limit the power of the state, especially the police. They are negative rights: ‘the state may not. . .’ This conception of rights grows out of the lessons of history that teaches that in the long run, abuses by the state are far more dangerous to liberty and democracy than individual criminal conduct, dangerous and disturbing as that is.
    • p. 76
  • Our First Amendment expresses a far different calculus for regulating speech than for regulating nonexpressive conduct and that is as it should be. The right to swing your fist should end at the tip of my nose, but your right to express your ideas should not necessarily end at the lobes of my ears."
    • p. 136
  • An important assumption underlying our commitment to freedom of expression is that truth is a process, not a product.
    • p. 149
  • I began with the premise that, deep down, everybody wants to censor something. Human beings, no matter how committed to the principles of free speech, have deep-seated distrust of the open marketplace of ideas, especially when they themselves—or the groups to which they belong—are ‘victims’ of the excesses of free speech.
    • p. 176
  • Students throughout the totalitarian world risk life and limb for freedom of expression, many American college students are demanding that big brother restrict their freedom of speech on campus. This demand for enhanced censorship is not emanating only from the usual corner – the know-nothing fundamentalist right – it is coming from the radical, and increasingly not-so-radical left as well.
    • p. 191

U.S. News & World Report (August 9, 1982)

Quotes reported in U.S. News & World Report (August 9, 1982), Vol. 93, p. 62.
  • We hope that the end result is a just verdict that is also truthful, even though all sides in a trial want to hide at least some of the truth.
  • The defendant wants to hide the truth because he's generally guilty. The defense attorney's job is to make sure the jury does not arrive at that truth.
  • The prosecution is perfectly happy to have the truth of guilt come out but it, too, has a truth to hide: it wants to make sure the process by which the evidence was obtained is not truthfully presented, because, as often as not, that process will raise questions.
  • The judge also has a truth he wants to hide: He often hasn't been completely candid in describing the facts or the law.
  • A group called the Azov Brigade fought bravely to defend eastern Ukraine, holding out in Mariupol's Azovstal Steel Plant for weeks after others had given up hope. Unfortunately, the same Azov Brigade has proudly boasted of its neo-Nazi ideology and wore their own version of the swastika until it was no longer convenient for them to do so.
  • The New York Times has described the relationship between Ukraine and Nazi imagery as "complicated." If that is somehow intended as a justification, it defies history...A considerable number of Ukrainians supported the Nazi invasion of their country and saw it as liberating them from the oppression of the Soviet Union. That was then! But there is no excuse or justification for the current Ukrainian leadership tolerating the glorification of the Nazis and the widespread and open use of Nazi symbols by its soldiers.
  • The Times reports that even some Jewish organizations are prepared to give Ukraine a pass on its toleration of neo-Nazis, because they don't want to be perceived as supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin's narrative about Ukraine being a Nazi state. Ukraine is not a Nazi state; it is a state that elected a Jew as president, while tolerating Nazism in its military. Those who refuse to condemn such intolerable toleration only encourage it by their mistaken silence. Calling out military groups that would like to turn Ukraine into a Nazi state, does not further the Russian narrative. It only tells a painful truth about the present, the past, and the likely future.

Criticism of Alan Dershowitz

  • Elaine Kendall of the Los Angeles Times calls Dershowitz "the attorney of last resort for the desperate and despised, counselor for lost causes and forlorn hopes."
  • Dershowitz is not only a remarkable liar and slanderer, but also an extreme opponent of elementary civil rights.
  • As much as people dismiss him (Dershowitz) as a clown and charlatan and roll their eyes ­ the fact of the matter is that he very effectively makes use of his Harvard pedigree ­ it is a distinguished university and he has an eminent chair of that university and he makes use of those credentials to lend credibility to his work
  • Dershowitz does not engage the debate in this country about Israel on the factual, legal, moral, and humanitarian merits because he knows that his client is "guilty" of violating international law in its occupation of the Palestinian territories
    • Howard Friel [7]

Quotes about Dershowitz

  • Professor Alan M. Dershowitz is Brooklyn native who has been called "the nation’s most peripatetic civil liberties lawye"’ and one of its "most distinguished defenders of individual rights," "the best-known criminal lawyer in the world," "the top lawyer of last resort," "America’s most public Jewish defender" and "Israel’s single most visible defender – the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion." He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
  • Over this storied career, Dershowitz’s public persona has remained more or less unchanged: loud, provocative, brilliant and principled, if also relentlessly self-promoting. And, until recently, his positions have been tolerated, if not always embraced, by the legal academy and universally acknowledged for their moral seriousness.
  • It there had been a few people like Alan Dershowitz during the 1930s and 1940s, the history of European jewry might have been different.
    • Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, 1982 speech where he presented the William O. Douglas First Amendment Award to Alan Dershowitz by the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith.
  • When I was in the south in the 60s, the white people didn't really curse you out, they just tried to kill you. And this abuse is nothing compared to that...On the other hand, I have not seen this level of hysteria before. I haven't. Ever since I got involved 12 years ago, it has been increasing. And it hasn't leveled off. Even some of the attack dogs are being attacked. Did you see them going after Dershowitz? It's very unusual for him, to get some of his medicine back. He was bitten and he was kind of shocked.
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