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Sometimes it takes an absurd event to illustrate the high cost of upholding crucial principles, such as the right to counsel. For nearly 60 years, I have tried to emulate John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Clarence Darrow, Thurgood Marshall, Edward Bennett Williams and others in the pantheon of my legal heroes, by representing, as they did, the most hated and vilified defendants. In making that career choice, I knew that I would be criticized by those who do not understand the constitutional right to counsel and the need for every defendant to receive zealous representation.
But when law professors such as Cornell University's Michael Dorf -- who is an acolyte, water-carrier and co-author of America's most prominent constitutional hypocrite, Professor Laurence Tribe -- set out to defame me, or anyone, for a principled representation of unpopular defendants, it becomes clear, and alarming, how much trouble the Constitution is in. Dorf conducted what he called a "Highly Unscientific Twitter Poll for Most Embarrassing Yale Law School Alum" He put my name prominently on the list because "Dershowitz seems to take special pride in defending people whose alleged conduct he claims to disapprove--including, especially, Donald Trump." Dorf apparently does not remember the principle often attributed to Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Dorf acknowledges that some people might dislike me or others because "they disagree with his extreme conception of the lawyer as a zealous advocate."
Dorf also accuses me of a willingness "to say fairly outrageous things simply so people pay attention," but without citing a single example from my writings or statements. He could, of course, have cited examples of "outrageous things" from his mentor, Tribe, who garnered media attention by calling Senator Mitch McConnell a "flagrant dickhead" and then-President Donald J. Trump "dickhead-in-chief."
Dorf goes on speciously to say that I deserve special condemnation because I "represent men who behaved terribly towards women (e.g., Claus von Bulow, O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump) that suggests at least a possibility of misogyny." In his apparent ignorance and malice, he could not resist the temptation to make a gratuitous reference to the fact I once received a massage from a professional therapist in Jeffrey Epstein's home, years before I represented Epstein, but omitting the fact that it was a shoulder massage, that my wife also received a massage, and that I never even met the woman who falsely accused me of having sex with her years after that therapeutic massage.
In purporting to describe my "career-long oeuvre, a tendency to represent men," Dorf also maliciously omits the fact that I have defended more women than most other lawyers, including Mia Farrow, Patricia Hearst, Leona Helmsley, Gigi Jordan, Lucille Miller, Sandra Murphy and numerous less well-known women who alleged harassment by men. He also deliberately omits the fact that my "oeuvre" includes representing half of my clients on a pro bono basis and that many of my cases have focused on the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and the death penalty. In light of Dorf's deliberately misrepresentation of my "oeuvre," it is not surprising that I came out ahead of Justice Samuel Alito and even Stuart Rhodes (the founder of "Oath Keepers") in his slanted, left-wing unpopularity poll.
Normally, one would ignore such a childish and malicious enterprise, because the reader is given no idea even of how many people were included in this admittedly "unscientific poll," or how they were selected. He acknowledges that the poll was "lawyer-skewed" and "liberal-skewed," but the fact that so many highly educated people are prepared to condemn a lawyer for his "oeuvre" tells us something chilling about today's legal education that cannot be ignored.
So, I will take my victory in Dorf's dishonor roll as a red badge of courage and continue to represent people whom he and his readers despise. I am proud to have gone to Yale Law School and to be living a life of principle based on what I was taught there by professors such as Alex Bickel, Telford Taylor, Joseph and Abe Goldstein, Jay Katz and Guido Calabrese. I do not think they would be embarrassed by my "oeuvre." They understood the crucial role of a "zealous lawyer" in our adversary system of justice, even if Dorf and his ilk do not. More importantly, they understood the alternative system that prevails in so many tyrannies, where zealous advocates and their unpopular clients are treated much worse than finishing atop an "unpopularity poll" by an unprincipled partisan like Dorf.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School and served on the legal team representing President Donald Trump for the first Senate impeachment trial. He is the author of numerous books, including his latest, The Case for Color-Blind Equality in an Age of Identity Politics. His podcast, "The Dershow," is available on Spotify and YouTube. He is the Jack Roth Charitable Foundation Fellow at Gatestone Institute.