ELON, N.C. -- It is a name that’s hard to forget: Dershowitz.
And, for more than half a century, the man with that name who grew up relatively poor in Brooklyn – the first in his family to go to college – has made it famous.
Perhaps the only names more famous are his client list over the years: Claus von Bulow, Patty Hearst, Jim Bakker and, of course, OJ Simpson. What you don’t hear much about are the people who Alan Dershowitz has represented who aren’t famous and he often works for pro bono. I asked him if he thought this country was, “over-lawyered.”
“I think we're under-lawyered in this country when it comes to representing people who need lawyers the most. And that is, people who have problems with immigration, people who have problems with family law,” Dershowitz said, when he was recently in town to work with students at Elon Law School. “We can certainly use a lot more lawyers helping the most underprivileged who don't have access to the legal system without the help of lawyers.”
It’s estimated that Dershowitz helped teach more than 10,000 lawyers in his 50 years at Harvard Law School, where he was hired as soon as he graduated from Yale Law School. That includes three Supreme Court justices: Chief Justice John Roberts as well as Associate Justices Alena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch.
Many people know those names because of how contentious Supreme Court confirmations have become – something that wasn’t the case until the last 30 years.
“When the Supreme Court mostly decided cases about the commerce clause and business and wasn't involved in abortion rights or gay rights, nobody cared who was on the Supreme Court,” Dershowitz said. “When the Supreme Court begins to have influence on the daily lives of Americans, then Americans say, 'Hey, we want to know who's on the Supreme Court, we want to have some input into who will play that important role.' You know, in England, they used to say that judges wore wigs and robes so that nobody could tell them apart because there was the law and it didn't matter who the judge was. Well, today it matters a lot who the judge is.”
Dershowitz also weighed in on modern cases, including whether the 14th amendment to the US Constitution allows for birthright citizenship – that is to say, does simply being born on American soil make someone a citizen? Dershowitz says that in most cases, it doesn’t.
“I think if a person comes to the United States as a tourist or in order to have a baby, has the baby here in the United States then leaves and goes to another country, I don't believe that they are constitutionally entitled to citizenship, because they've never been under the jurisdiction of the United States,” he said. “But, if you're born to an illegal alien and you've lived in this country, 10, 15, 20 years, you pay taxes and you've been subject to the laws of the country, very hard not to conclude that you are a citizen under the constitution.”
See what else Dershowitz has to say – including about whether OJ was guilty – in this edition of the Buckley Report.