Morton Dershowitz is an American lawyer and jurist. He has spent
most of his career at Harvard Law School, where at the age of 28
he became the youngest full professor in the law school's history,
and is now the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law. In addition to
his teaching, Dershowitz is a prolific author who makes frequent
media and public speaking appearances and has worked on a number
of high-profile legal cases.
has been noted as a criminal appellate lawyer, most notably in
getting a conviction overturned for Claus von Bülow, who
had been accused of trying to murder his wife. The publicity surrounding
this New York society scandal fueled enough interest that Dershowitz's
book on the case, Reversal of Fortune, was turned into a major
film starring Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close. In addition, Dershowitz
has often commented on Judaism, Israel, civil rights and liberties,
and the First Amendment.
life, education, and family
Dershowitz was born in the Williamsburg neighborhood in the New
York City borough of Brooklyn and grew up in Borough Park.
parents, Harry and Claire, were both devout Orthodox Jews. Harry
Dershowitz (May 8, 1909–April 26, 1984) was a founder and
president of the Young Israel Synagogue in the 1960s, served on
the board of directors of the Etz Chaim School in Borough Park,
and in retirement was co-owner of the Manhattan-based Merit Sales
Company. Dershowitz's brother Nathan is counsel for the American
attended Yeshiva University High School, where he played on the
basketball team. He was a rebellious student, often criticized
by his teachers. The school's career placement center, however,
told him that he had talent and was capable of becoming an advertising
executive, funeral director, or salesman. He decided, he said,
to do something that "requires a big mouth and no brain...so
I became a lawyer."
graduating, he attended Brooklyn College and received a Bachelor
of Arts degree in 1959. He later attended Yale Law School, where
he was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. He graduated first
in his class with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) in 1962.
After being admitted to the bar, Dershowitz served as a law clerk
for David L. Bazelon, Chief Judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia, and Arthur Goldberg, Associate
Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
joined the faculty of Harvard Law School as an assistant professor
of law in 1964. He was made a full professor of law in 1967 at
the age of 28, becoming Harvard's youngest full law professor
in the law school's history. He was appointed the Felix Frankfurter
Professor of Law in 1993, succeeding Abram Chayes.
of Dershowitz's legal career has focused on criminal law, and
his clients have included high-profile figures such as Patricia
Hearst, Leona Helmsley, Jim Bakker, Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson,
and Harry Reems.
also played a leading role in the prosecution of John Demjanjuk,
who in 1988 was convicted in Israel for crimes committed by "Ivan
the Terrible of Treblinka"; the decision was overturned by
the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993.
representing Claus von Bülow he had the case overturned on
appeal; in a retrial, von Bülow was acquitted. Afterwards,
Dershowitz told the story of the case in his book, Reversal of
Fortune. In the movie version, Dershowitz was played by Ron Silver
and also himself had a cameo as a judge.
several years, Dershowitz has written the monthly column "Justice"
in the pages of Penthouse (magazine).
Dershowitz was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1979, and was in 1983
a recipient of the William O. Douglas First Amendment Award from
the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai Brith for his work in
civil rights. He has been awarded honorary doctorates in law from
Yeshiva University, the Hebrew Union College, Monmouth College,Haifa
University and Bar-Ilan University.
has been described by Newsweek as America's "most peripatetic
civil liberties lawyer and one of its most distinguished defenders
of individual rights", and by Corriere della Sera as "America's
most famous progressive lawyer".
has been referenced on several occasions in popular entertainment,
especially during the O.J. Simpson trial. On television, he has
been parodied on Saturday Night Live and mentioned in the episode
"Homer Bad Man" of The Simpsons.
Dershowitz has taken public stances on a number of controversial
contemporary issues. Because of his fame, his positions have often
been covered by major media sources and have been the subject
of attention from both scholarly and political points of view.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Dershowitz advocated
the issuance of warrants allowing terrorism suspects to be tortured
if there is an "absolute need to obtain immediate information
in order to save lives coupled with probable cause that the suspect
had such information and is unwilling to reveal it".
he claims to be personally against the use of torture, he believes
that authorities should be permitted to use non-lethal torture
in a "ticking bomb" scenario, regardless of whether
international law permits it, and that it would be less destructive
to the rule of law to regulate the process than to leave it up
to the discretion of individual law-enforcement agents. Under
his proposal, the government would not be allowed to prosecute
the torture subject based upon information revealed under that
interrogation method. "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
civil libertarians have criticized Dershowitz's solution to the
problem presented by uncooperative captured terrorists. Harvey
Silverglate states that jury nullification and executive clemency
could protect law enforcement in the hypothetical ticking-bomb
case, thus "our legal system is perfectly capable of dealing
with the exceptional hard case without enshrining the notion that
it is okay to torture a fellow human being".
F. Schulz, the executive director of the U.S. section of Amnesty
International, states that Dershowitz's hypothetical ticking-bomb
scenario is unrealistic, because it would require that "the
authorities know that a bomb has been planted somewhere; know
it is about to go off; know that the suspect in their custody
has the information they need to stop it; know that the suspect
will yield that information accurately in a matter of minutes
if subjected to torture; and know that there is no other way to
obtain it." He also states that employing authorized torture
would lower the country's ability to stand up for human rights
Goodman of the Center for Constitutional Rights, debating with
Dershowitz on CNN, stated that Dershowitz's proposal would create
a "very slippery slope," and that torture would "happen
under more than those exceptional circumstances. It's going to
start becoming the regular, rather than the unusual".
The debate with Finkelstein
Shortly after the publication of Dershowitz's book The Case for
Israel, Norman Finkelstein accused Dershowitz, of "fraud,
falsification, plagiarism and nonsense." Dershowitz and Finkelstein
argued the question on an episode of Democracy Now!; Finkelstein
later expanded the charges into a book, Beyond Chutzpah. After
repeated attempts to block the book's publication, Alan Dershowitz
wrote in Front Page Magazine that Finkelstein suspected his own
mother (a Holocaust survivor) of being a Nazi Kapo. Finkelstein
responded by indicating that he had never made such a comment
and urged his readers to mail Harvard University to fire Dershowitz.
This correspondence can be found on Finkelstein's website, along
with the article from his memoir, which instigated Dershowitz's
writing on this matter.
and Walt Paper
Fellow Harvard professor John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt of
Chicago University, both political scientists published in March
2006 a paper which criticizes what they describe as the "Israel
Lobby" for influencing U.S. foreign policy in the Middle
East away from U.S. interests and towards Israel's interests.
They denote Alan Dershowitz in the paper as playing the role of
an "apologist" for the Israeli lobby. In response, Dershowitz
wrote an extensive report that challenged both the factual basis
of the report, the motivations of the authors and their scholarship.
Dershowitz claimed that the "paper contains three types of
major errors: quotations are wrenched out of context, important
facts are misstated or omitted, and embarrasingly weak logic is