- Passionate defender of Bill Clinton during the President's 1999 impeachment trial
- He wrote that the Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore ruling (which finally proclaimed Bush the winner of the election) was a "lawless decision," and that the five Justices who ruled that Bush should be declared the winner had "shamed themselves and the Court on which they serve, and they defiled their places in history"
- "It is the job of the defense attorney to prevent the whole truth from coming out."
- "Once I decide to take a case, I have only one agenda: I want to win. I will try to get my client off without regard to the consequences."
- "I don't apologize (or feel guilty about) helping to let a murderer go free—even though I realize that someday he may go out and kill again."
Alan Morton Dershowitz was born on September 1, 1938 in Brooklyn, New York, where he later went on to attend Brooklyn College. He thereafter enrolled at Yale Law School, where he became editor of the Yale Law Journal and graduated first in his class. After clerkships for Justice Arthur Goldberg and Chief Judge David Bazelon, he was appointed to the faculty of Harvard Law School, first as an associate professor at age 25, then as a full professor at age 28.
During his legal career, Dershowitz has gained considerable fame through his widely publicized defenses of such notable individuals as Claus von Bülow, Michael Milken, Anatoly Shcharansky, Jonathan Pollard, Leona Helmsley, Penthouse Magazine, Mike Tyson, and O.J. Simpson.
In his 1982 book The Best Defense, Dershowitz revealed his views about the manner in which attorneys ought to perform their duties, and the responsibilities they owed (or did not owe) to society. He wrote the following:
- “Almost all criminal defendants are, in fact, guilty.”
- “Any criminal defense lawyer who tells you that most of his clients are innocent is bluffing.”
- “In representing guilty defendants, it is often necessary to put the government on trial for its misconduct.”
- “Criminal defendants and their lawyers certainly do not want justice. They want acquittals, or, at least, short sentences.”
- “It is the job of the defense attorney to prevent the whole truth from coming out.”
- “Once I decide to take a case, I have only one agenda: I want to win. I will try to get my client off without regard to the consequences.”
- “I don't apologize (or feel guilty about) helping to let a murderer go free—even though I realize that someday he may go out and kill again.”
In 1999 Dershowitz testified before the House Judiciary Committee in the impeachment trial (on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice) of President Bill Clinton. One of Clinton’s most passionate defenders, Dershowitz said: “A vote against impeachment is not a vote for Bill Clinton. It is a vote against bigotry. It’s a vote against fundamentalism. It’s a vote against anti-environmentalism. It’s a vote against the right-to-life movement. It’s a vote against the radical right. This is truly the first battle in a great culture war. And if this president is impeached, it will be a great victory for the forces of evil, evil! Genuine evil. People like Congressman [Bob] Barr, Senator Trent Lott, Senator Jesse Helms, who support white supremacist organizations, will claim victory over decency and decent people. And I hope that moderates out there realize, even if they don’t like Bill Clinton, to vote for impeachment is to vote to give their party over to the mad dogs of radicalism.” Dershowitz further told the House Judiciary Committee that “lying under oath [as Clinton had done] is so prevalent, in spite of the damage it does to our system of justice, this President should not be held accountable.”
At one point during the trial proceedings, Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia) said, “Despite the fact that some of our law professors here today [a reference to Dershowitz] think that this matter should all be handled by the courts, and the Constitution should just be shoved aside, real America understands that the Constitution is there for a reason—that it does mean something. I don’t think these views represent the clarity and the rationality and the common sense with which the real America views these matters.” To this, Dershowitz angrily replied that Barr’s comments were maliciously racist. “Let me respond to why I perceive this to be a personal attack,” said Dershowitz. “First of all, whenever I hear the words ‘real Americans,’ that sounds to me like a code word for racism, a code word for bigotry, a code word for anti-Semitism. You ought to be ashamed. . . . I hear you describe me as something other than a real American. Shame on you!”
A key player in the 2000 Presidential election scandal in Florida (which left the winner of the election in doubt for several weeks), Dershowitz represented eight Palm Beach County, Florida voters who claimed that they had “accidentally” voted for the wrong Presidential candidate – alleging that the ballots provided for them were confusing. During the controversy, Dershowitz denounced Florida’s Republican Secretary of State Catherine Harris as a “crook” and a Bush crony. He wrote that the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore ruling (which finally proclaimed Bush the winner of the election) was a “lawless decision”; that the five Justices who ruled that Bush should be declared the winner had “shamed themselves and the Court on which they serve, and they defiled their places in history”; and that those Justices had done so with “malice aforethought” and motives that were “uniquely corrupt.” Appearing on the television program “Good Morning America” at the height of the controversy, Dershowitz condemned George W. Bush’s remark that he was working on making a smooth transition into the White House even before the final Court decision had been rendered. “His speech,” balked Dershowitz, “. . . sounded almost like the beginning of a legal coup d’etat in suit and tie, defying the rule of law and saying, ‘I am anointing myself as president.’”
In recent times, Dershowitz has taken some positions that are at odds with those of the left: he has endorsed the use of torture of suspected terrorists when they might contain information that could prevent great calamities; he has charged some notoriously anti-Israel professors at Columbia University with supporting terrorism; and he published the 2003 book The Case for Israel, which supports Israel’s efforts for self-preservation in the face of Arab terrorism.
According to Dershowitz’s website at Harvard University, the professor has some 842 publications to his credit (as of April 2005), including articles and books he has authored. His books include, in addition to those mentioned earlier in this profile: Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age (2002); Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge (2002); Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000 (2001); The Genesis of Justice: Ten Stories of Biblical Injustice That Led to the Ten Commandments and Modern Law (2000); Just Revenge (1999); Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis (1998); The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century (1997); Reasonable Doubts: the O.J. Simpson Case and the Criminal Justice System (1996); and The Abuse Excuse (1994).
From 1984 to 2004, Dershowitz contributed money to political campaigns 28 times – 24 times to Democrats and 4 times to Republicans. During that period, he donated a total of $18,810, of which 90 percent ($16,950) went to Democrats. The Republican recipients of his donations were Arlen Specter (three times) for Senator and Orrin Hatch (once) for President. Among the Democrat recipients have been John Kerry (whom Dershowitz has consistently supported since 1984), Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, and Barack Obama.