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Alan Dershowitz
A photograph of Alan Dershowitz in October 2009
Dershowitz in 2009
Alan Morton Dershowitz

(1938-09-01) September 1, 1938 (age 85)
Occupation Former Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School
Political party Democratic
  • Sue Barlach
    (m. 1959; div. 1976)
  • Carolyn Cohen
    (m. 1986)
Children 3

Alan Morton Dershowitz (/ˈdɜːrʃəwɪts/ durr-SHƏ-wits; 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. Dershowitz is known for taking on high-profile and often unpopular causes and clients.

From 1964 to 2013, he taught at Harvard Law School, where he was appointed the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law in 1993. Dershowitz is a regular media contributor, political commentator, and legal analyst.

Dershowitz is the author of several books about politics and the law, including Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case (1985), the basis of the 1990 film; Chutzpah (1991); Reasonable Doubts: The Criminal Justice System and the O.J. Simpson Case (1996); The Case for Israel (2003); and The Case for Peace (2005). His two most recent works are The Case Against Impeaching Trump (2018) and Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo (2019). An ardent Zionist and supporter of Israel, he has written several books on the Arab–Israeli conflict.

Early life

Dershowitz was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on September 1, 1938, the son of Claire (née Ringel) and Harry Dershowitz, an Orthodox Jewish couple. He was raised in Borough Park. His father was a founder and president of the Young Israel of Boro Park 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 first job was at a deli factory on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1952, at age 14.


Alan Dershowitz and Jimmy Wales, 2009-10-07
Alan Dershowitz and Jimmy Wales at Yale University in 2009

Dershowitz attended Yeshiva University High School, an independent boys' prep school owned by Yeshiva University, in Manhattan, where he played on the basketball team. He was a rebellious student, often criticized by his teachers. He later said his teachers told him to do something that "requires a big mouth and no brain ... so I became a lawyer". After graduating from high school, he attended Brooklyn College and received his A.B. in 1959, majoring in political science. Next, he attended Yale Law School, where he was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, and graduated first in his class with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) in 1962. He was a member of a Conservative minyan at Harvard Hillel but is a secular Jew.

Legal and teaching career

After law school, Dershowitz clerked for Judge David L. Bazelon (pictured), whom he has described as one of his most influential mentors.

After graduating from law school, Dershowitz clerked for David L. Bazelon, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Dershowitz described Bazelon as an influential mentor. He has said, "Bazelon was my best and worst boss at once.... He worked me to the bone; he didn't hesitate to call at 2 a.m. He taught me everything—how to be a civil libertarian, a Jewish activist, a mensch. He was halfway between a slave master and a father figure." From 1963 to 1964 Dershowitz clerked for the Justice Arthur Goldberg of the U.S. Supreme Court.

He told Tom Van Riper of Forbes that getting a Supreme Court clerkship was probably his second big break. His first was at age 14 or 15, when a camp counselor told him he was smart but that his mind operated a little differently. He joined the Harvard Law School faculty as an assistant professor in 1964, and was made a full professor in 1967 at age 28, at that time the youngest full professor of law in the school's history. He was appointed Felix Frankfurter professor of law in 1993. Dershowitz retired from teaching at Harvard Law in 2013. He is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.

Throughout his tenure at Harvard, Dershowitz maintained his legal practice in both criminal and civil law. His clients have included such high-profile figures as Patty Hearst, Harry Reems, Leona Helmsley, Jim Bakker, Mike Tyson, Michael Milken, O.J. Simpson and Kirtanananda Swami. Dershowitz reportedly was one of Nelson Mandela's lawyers.

Family and personal life

Dershowitz's first wife was Sue Barlach. The couple met during high school at a Jewish summer camp in the Catskills. They married in 1959, when Dershowitz was 20 and Barlach was 18. Barlach and Dershowitz had two sons together: Elon Dershowitz (born 1961), a film producer, and Jamin Dershowitz (born 1963), an attorney. He has two grandchildren by Jamin: Lori and Lyle. Barlach and Dershowitz separated in 1973 and divorced in 1976.

In 1986, Dershowitz married Carolyn Cohen, a retired neuropsychologist, Together they had one child, Ella (born 1990), an actress. Dershowitz and Cohen divide their time between homes in Martha's Vineyard, Miami Beach and Manhattan.

Awards and recognitions

Dershowitz was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1979, and in 1983 received the William O. Douglas First Amendment Award from the Anti-Defamation League for his work on civil rights. In November 2007, he was awarded the Soviet Jewry Freedom Award by the Russian Jewish Community Foundation. In December 2011, he was awarded the Menachem Begin Award of Honor by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center at an event co-sponsored by NGO Monitor. He has been awarded honorary doctorates in law from Yeshiva University, the Hebrew Union College, Monmouth University, University of Haifa, Syracuse University, Fitchburg State College, Bar-Ilan University, and Brooklyn College. He is a member of the International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor.

Dershowitz has appeared as himself in the television series Picket Fences, Spin City, and First Monday, and in the 2019 documentary No Safe Spaces.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Alan Dershowitz para niños

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