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Quotes of the day: Alan Dershowitz

Published Sunday, August 31, 2014 @ 10:06 PM EDT
Aug 31 2014

Alan Morton Dershowitz (born September 1, 1938) is an American lawyer, jurist, author, and political commentator. He is a prominent scholar on United States constitutional law and criminal law. He spent most of his career at Harvard Law School where in 1967, at the age of 28, he became the youngest full professor of law in its history. He held the Felix Frankfurter professorship there from 1993 until his retirement in December 2013. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


A good lawyer knows how to shut up when he's won his case.

All law is about injustice.

Asymmetrical warfare is a euphemism for terrorism, just like collateral damage is a euphemism for killing innocent civilians.

Being offended by freedom of speech should never be regarded as a justification for violence.

Candor and accountability in a democracy is very important. Hypocrisy has no place.

Censorship laws are blunt instruments, not sharp scalpels. Once enacted, they are easily misapplied to merely unpopular or only marginally dangerous 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.

Good character consists of recognizing the selfishness that inheres in each of us and trying to balance it against the altruism to which we should all aspire. It is a difficult balance to strike, but no definition of goodness can be complete without it.

Hypocrisy is not a way of getting back to the moral high ground. Pretending you're moral, saying your moral is not the same as acting morally.

I don't think the law exists to arrive at the truth. If it did, we wouldn't have exclusionary rules, we wouldn't have presumptions of innocence, we wouldn't have proof beyond reasonable doubt. There's an enormous difference between the role of truth in law and the role of truth in science. In law, truth is one among many goals.

I tell my students, if you ever become comfortable with your role as criminal defense lawyer, it's time to quit. It should be a constant source of discomfort, because you're dealing with incredible moral ambiguity, and you've been cast into a role which is not enviable.

I think that lawyers are terrible at admitting that they're wrong. And not just admitting it; also realizing it. Most lawyers are very successful, and they think that because they're making money and people think well of them, they must be doing everything right.

I think we're seeing privacy diminish, not by laws... but by young people who don't seem to value their privacy.

I'm worried about privacy because of the young people who don't give a damn about their privacy, who are prepared to put their entire private lives online. They put stuff on Facebook that 15 years from now will prevent them from getting the jobs they want. They don't understand that they are mortgaging their future for a quick laugh from a friend.

In the real world in which we live, you always have to choose between evils. And in choosing between evils, you have to have moral criteria for how to make those choices.

In today's distorted world of 'human rights,' truth takes a back seat to ideology, and false claims- especially those that 'support' radical ideologies- persist even after they have been exposed.

Individuals have the right to pick and choose which expressions to condemn, which to praise and which to say nothing about. Governments, however, must remain neutral as to the content of expression. And governments must protect the rights of all to express even the most despicable of views.

Intimidated people always say they are not intimidated; that's the nature of intimidation.

Judges are the weakest link in our system of justice, and they are also the most protected.

Laws are important precisely because in a democracy they reflect the attitudes and aspirations of those they govern.

Many insane people and seriously mentally ill people seem very reasonable.

Scientists search for truth. Philosophers search for morality. A criminal trial searches for only one result: proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Sometimes the public has to be reminded that the word criminal in criminal lawyer- like the word baby in baby doctor- is a description not of the professional, but rather of the clientele.

The court of last resort is no longer the Supreme Court. It's 'Nightline.'

The law is agnostic about truth.It's very skeptical of ultimate truth. That's why freedom of speech permits lies to be told.

The threat or fear of violence should not become an excuse or justification for restricting freedom of speech.

The worst mistake you can make is underrating your enemy. Assuming that they're evil- I think it's a terrible thing to do.

We don't have an Official Secrets Act in the United States, as other countries do. Under the First Amendment, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of association are more important than protecting secrets.

When you discriminate against anyone, you discriminate against everyone. It's a display of terrible intolerance.


(September 1 is also the birthday of Ann Richards.)

Categories: Alan Dershowitz, Quotes of the day


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