On April 26, 2018, famed attorney Alan Dershowitz visited the University of Illinois for two conversations with university and community audiences. In the afternoon, he spoke with students of Gies College of Business and the College of Law to discuss and to answer questions about freedom of speech, professional ethics, attorney-client privilege, and a range of other topics. In the evening, Dershowitz held a similar conversation for the Champaign-Urbana community.
His visit to the University of Illinois was co-sponsored by Gies College of Business; the Program in Constitutional Theory, History, and Law at the College of Law; and the Chabad Center for Jewish Life at the University of Illinois.
Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School. A graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School, he had joined the Harvard Law School faculty when he was just 25 years old.
“No one said the first amendment was easy,” Dershowitz said during his afternoon discussion, which was led by Gretchen Winter, director of the Center for Professional Responsibility in Business and Society. “It’s very, very complicated.”
During that afternoon discussion held in the Deloitte Auditorium of the Business Instructional Facility, Dershowitz described just how complicated the issue of the first amendment and free speech could be. The lively discussion covered topics such as media issues, attorney-client privilege, conflict of interest, and comparative ethics. “Ethics are very situational,” said Dershowitz of the last topic. He described how there are situations in which a priest, a psychiatrist, and a lawyer—all acting within the ethical guidelines of their profession—could have very different responses and responsibilities for keeping information secret in a variety of situations. “As lawyers, we’ve all be told things by our clients that we can’t sleep at night keeping as secrets,” he said. “You feel you have to tell somebody. And you can’t. I can’t tell my wife or my children. You go to the grave with these secrets. And if you don’t want to do that, you can’t become a very good lawyer.”
That evening the Foellinger Auditorium was filled with community members and university faculty and students to hear Dershowitz answer questions from Mark Maxwell, the Capitol Bureau Chief for WCIA in Springfield and the host of Capitol Connection. Dershowitz again spoke on the his support for freedom of speech and civil liberties. He pointed out again that the issue is thorny, and that “hypocrisy over the first amendment is as old as the first amendment.”
He also mentioned that he had spent two days earlier this year at the White House working with staff members who were charged with working on a peace process for the Middle East. He was asked in recognition of his long study of the Middle East. He has written a number of books on the subject and is a well-known advocate for the State of Israel.
Israel did come up in the evening’s topics of discussion. He again asserted his support for Israel and his opposition to the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement.
In a lively discussion, Dershowitz shared his views and opinions on a wide range of topics, including whether a sitting president can be indicted (“The answer is crystal clear. No one knows,” said Dershowitz.), whether a two state solution would work between Israel and Palestine, African refugees in Israel, and travel bans. Many lined up to ask him questions, and Dershowitz took each question seriously and provided honest feedback and answers.
Dershowitz, in addition to being a renowned for his work as an attorney, has also published more than 1000 articles in magazines, newspapers, journals, and blogs, including The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, and the Huffington Post. In 1983, he received the William O. Douglas First Amendment Award from the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith in recognition of his “compassionate eloquent leadership and persistent advocacy in the struggle for civil and human rights.” In 2007, he received the Soviet Jewry Freedom Award from by the Russian Jewish Community Foundation. In 2011, he was awarded the Menachem Begin Award of Honor from the Menachem Begin Heritage Center.