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Dershowitz, Alan M.


DERSHOWITZ, ALAN M. (1938– ), U.S. law professor and civil liberties lawyer. Dershowitz was born in Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Yeshiva University high school and Brooklyn College. He received his law degree from Yale Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. He was law clerk to Chief Judge David Bazelon, U.S. Court of Appeals, and Justice Arthur Goldberg of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1967 he was appointed professor at Harvard Law School, where his special subjects were criminal law, psychiatry and law, and constitutional litigation. He served as consultant to the government of China on the revision of its criminal code, as a member of the President's Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, the President's Commission on Causes and Prevention of Violence, and the President's Commission on Civil Disorders, and he was director of the National Institute of Mental Health. He was also chairman of the Civil Rights Commission for New England and of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, and was a prominent member of the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Dershowitz lectured widely and wrote extensively (in books, magazines, and newspapers) on civil liberties and public affairs. He served as counsel in many important legal cases involving civil liberties, and became a public figure especially through his participation in television programs and interviews.

Dershowitz played a leading role in influencing Congress by promoting the theory of "presumptive sentencing," intended to obviate discrepancy in criminal sentencing for the same crimes.

Between 1967 and 1986 Dershowitz represented clients in 11 cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of his cases attracted national attention, including those in which he represented Patricia Hearst, Claus von Bulow, the trial lawyer F. Lee Bailey, and Kenneth Tyson. Although stridently loyal to Jewish causes, he defended the constitutional right of the American Nazi party in 1977 to march in Skokie, Illinois, for he maintained that as a civil libertarian it was his duty to uphold the constitutional right of free speech, which includes the right to demonstrate peacefully. Dershowitz thinks of himself as a liberal in the tradition of John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. Although opposed to the philosophy and actions of the Jewish Defense League, in 1972 he successfully defended Sheldon Siegel, a member of the jdl, on a murder charge arising out of the blowing up of the offices of Sol Hurok to protest Hurok's sponsorship of Russian performers. Dershowitz succeeded at the trial of Siegel to expose the case as a police frame-up. Time magazine called him "the top lawyer of last resort in the country." He was on the defense team in the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial. Newsweek described Dershowitz as "the nation's most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer and one of its most distinguished defenders of individual rights."

In 2002 Dershowitz stirred up much controversy when he advocated the legalization of torture by means of a "torture warrant." He proposed that no torture be permitted without a warrant issued by a judge, his rationale being that it is practiced in any case, so better to create some parameters to monitor it. The application for such a warrant, he explained, would be "based on the 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."

From 1993, Dershowitz was Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. His books include The Best Defense (1982); Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bulow Case (1982), which was made into a successful film; Taking Liberties: A Decade of Hard Cases, Bad Laws and Bum Raps (1988); his autobiography Chutzpah (1991); Contrary to Popular Opinion (1992); Reasonable Doubts: The Criminal Justice System and the O.J. Simpson Case (1997); The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century (1997); Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis (2000); Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge (2002); Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age (2002); The Case for Israel (2003); America Declares Independence (2003); Rights from Wrongs: The Origins of Human Rights in the Experience of Injustice (2004); and America on Trial: Inside the Legal Battles That Transformed Our Nation (2004).

[Milton Ridvas Konvitz /

Rohan Saxena and

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]

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