Encyclopaedia Judaica CD-ROM Edition
"DERSHOWITZ, ALAN M." - Sample Entry


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 have been criminal law, psychiatry and law, and constitutional litigation. He has 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 has been director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Dershowitz has been chairman of the civil rights commission for New England of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, and has been a prominent member of the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union.

He has lectured widely and written extensively (in books,  in magazines, and newspaper articles) on civil liberties and public affairs. He has been identified 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 has played a leading role in influencing Congress in projecting the theory of “presumptive sentencing,” which is intended to obviate discrepancy in criminal sentencing for the same crimes.

Between 1967 and 1986 Dershowitz represented clients in eleven cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of his cases have attracted national attention, including those in which he represented Patricia Hearst, Claus von Bülow 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 maintains 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, he in 1972 successfully defended Sheldon Siegel, a member of the J.D.L., 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 has called him, “the top lawyer of last resort in the country.” He was on the defense team of the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial. Newsweek has described Dershowitz as “the nation's most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer and one of its most distinguished defenders of individual rights.”
Dershowitz is author of several books, including The Best Defense (1982); Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow 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); and Contrary to Public Opinion (1992).
[Milton Ridvas Konvitz/RO]

Dc. 1983–92 Entry—CD-ROM Update

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