Alan Morton Dershowitz / b. 1938 / New York, New York, USA / Attorney, Law Professor, Legal Analyst, Political Commentator, Author, Podcaster
Note: The sources of the following quotations are provided where known; while the specific sources of most quotations are not known, they presumably derive from Dershowitz’s numerous writings, online interviews, commentaries, and podcasts
I can’t find anything in the Constitution that says you prefer the life of the mother, or the convenience of the mother if it’s an abortion by choice, over the potential life of the fetus. Look, I think women, if they’re required to not have abortions, could die—so I favor a woman’s right to choose.
Civil disobedience, as I put it to the audience, was not the problem, despite the warnings of some that it threatened social stability, that it led to anarchy. The greatest danger, I argued, was civil obedience, the submission of individual conscience to governmental authority.
Civil liberties had their origin and must find their ultimate guaranty in the faith of the people. If that faith should be lost, five or nine men in Washington could not long supply its want. The greatest protections of liberty are found in local self-government and in the representative character of our institutions.
Being a civil libertarian means I don’t have to taste your soup to know it’s too hot.
The concept of civil liberties is not an American concept; it is a universal concept. It’s the concept of the rights of the individual against the state.
One of the great things about the United States is that we have a constitution that guarantees everybody equal protection of the laws. And that is not just word; that is a constitutional principle.
The framers of the Constitution were very clear. They were to be a government, not of men, but of laws. They recognized that people who are given authority will abuse it.
In a democracy, it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism, it’s your count that votes.
Dershowitz on Dershowitz
I’m a very tough guy, and I fight hard, and I don’t give up. And that makes me friends and that makes me enemies, and I know that.
It’s every lawyer’s dream to help shape the law, not just react to it.
Aspirations don’t disappoint, so long as you realize that the struggle for liberty, justice and anything else worth pursuing never stays won.
. . . despite finishing first in my class at Yale Law School, I was rejected by all 32 of the law firms to which I applied.The Case Against BDS: Why Singling Out Israel for Boycott Is Anti-Semitic and Anti-Peace (2018).
I learned at that time, for an absolute certainty, that I did not believe in an intervening God, since I did not spend one second praying or trying to make a deal with God.Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law (2013).
I have always considered “Pascal’s Wager” a questionable bet to place. Any God worth “believing in” would surely prefer an honest agnostic to a calculating hypocrite.
Asymmetrical warfare is a euphemism for terrorism, just like collateral damage is a euphemism for killing innocent civilians.
The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.
I am for civil liberties, and I am against extremism on both sides. I think extremism on both sides is dangerous.
The test of a free society is how it treats its dissidents and nonconformists.
You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. You must defend all of it or be against all of it.
The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom.
The case for a free society is not that it is perfect; there is no such thing. It is that it is better than any alternative.
Censorship is antithetical to democracy. It is essential that information flow freely and without censorship. Even when people are acting irresponsibly, information about their activities should be available to the public.
If you don’t have freedom of speech, then democracy is meaningless. If you can’t express your views, democracy is just a façade.
The threat or fear of violence should not become an excuse or justification for restricting freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech means freedom for those who you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views. It also means that the government cannot pick and choose which expressions to authorize and which to prevent.
Israel and Palestine
I’m not against criticizing Israel. I think Israel is a legitimate target for criticism. But it has to be legitimate criticism, it has to be fact-based criticism, it has to be fair criticism. It has to be criticism that recognizes that Israel does have a right to exist, does have a right to defend itself.
You can’t think about terrorism without thinking about Palestinian terrorism. Palestinians began international terrorism. It started with them in 1968. They used it as the first resort, not the last resort. They invented it, they perfected it, they benefited from it and they taught the world how to use it and that it would be successful.
Those primarily responsible for the current desperate situation of the Palestinian people have been their own leaders, from Haj Hussaini (the late Grand Mufti of Jerusalem) to Yassir Arafat, to the leaders of Hamas and the other terrorist groups. These leaders have placed a higher priority on the destruction of Israel than on the construction of Palestine.The Case for Israel (2003).
It is fair to say that although Israeli actions in combating terrorism have been far from perfect, Israel has been in greater compliance with the rule of law than any other country facing comparable dangers.The Case for Israel (2003).
Yet the world, including many in the media, academia, and even diplomacy, seems to accept Palestinian violence as cultural. On the other hand, something different is expected from Israelis. This is cultural relativism bordering on racism. To expect less of Palestinians, regardless of their grievances, is to diminish their humanity.The Case for Israel (2003).
The Palestinians will eventually have a state, but it should not come as a reward for terrorism.The Case for Israel (2003).
The courtroom is not a place where truth and innocence inevitably triumph; it is only an arena where contending lawyers fight not for justice but to win.
When you have high-profile cases, there are always going to be negative things that are going to come out, whether it’s about my clients or my cases or my ethics or whatever.
The distinction between self-defense and aggression is not a moral one, but a legal one. It’s a line in the sand that separates lawful violence from unlawful violence.
Justice is not always an outcome. It is a process.
Juries are not computers. They are composed of human beings who evaluate evidence differently.
Judges are the weakest link in our system of justice, and they are also the most protected.
Hypocrisy is not a way of getting back to the moral high ground. Pretending you’re moral, saying you’re moral is not the same as acting morally.
I have spent my career trying to strike the balance between protecting civil liberties on the one hand and protecting national security on the other. And as I have said, it is not easy to strike that balance, and it’s hard to do it right.
Individual rights must be balanced with collective responsibilities. In some cases, the greater good might require individuals to make sacrifices for the benefit of society.
Rule of Law
The challenge for democracy is to make sure that the rule of law becomes stronger than the rule of violence.
The Second Amendment
Foolish liberals who are trying to read the Second Amendment out of the Constitution by claiming it’s not an individual right or that it’s too much of a public safety hazard don’t see the danger in the big picture. They’re courting disaster by encouraging others to use the same means to eliminate portions of the Constitution they don’t like.
The mark of a truly civilized society is the ability to recognize and respect the rights of people with whom we disagree.
If you deny that any principle or any principle of law is infallible, then you must drive to distinguish what is fallible from what is infallible. This is a much more difficult and dangerous task than is commonly supposed.
In the end, it is not what we believe, but how we believe that is most important.
. . . if a president did something that he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.Reported in Nikki Carvajal, Paul LeBlanc, and Marshall Cohen, “Alan Dershowitz argues presidential quid pro quos aimed at reelection are not impeachable,” cnn.com, January 29, 2020.
The essence of justice is that it must be equally applicable to all. . . . No one is above the law but digging to find crimes in order to influence an election does not constitute the equal application of the law.Get Trump: The Threat to Civil Liberties, Due Process, and Our Constitutional Rule of Law (2023).
Winston Churchill reportedly quipped that “A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.” That was before the internet. Today, the truth can’t even find its shoes.Cancel Culture: The Latest Attack on Free Speech and Due Process (2020).