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UPDATED: January 26, 2017 at 2:30 p.m.
Publicly backing Republican politicians is not a common pastime for Harvard Law professors, many of whom are known for their liberal beliefs. But in recent months, professor of Law emeritus Alan M. Dershowitz has emerged as one of President Donald Trump’s most vocal intellectual defenders.
Though he is a lifelong Democrat, Dershowitz is famous for speaking out on controversial issues regardless of who he supports in the ballot box. In recent months, Dershowitz has taken to Fox News, CNN, and the pages of the Boston Globe and the Washington Examiner to defend Trump’s legal authority on certain actions as well as the state of his mental health.
“We are all entitled to our opinions regarding the president’s political and personal qualifications to serve. I voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election because I felt she was more qualified than Donald Trump to be president. That is my right as an American voter,” he wrote in the Examiner. “But psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have no more right to pathologize a president or a candidate because they disagree with his or her political views than do prosecutors or politicians have a right to criminalize political opponents.”
Writing in the Globe, Dershowitz challenged Senator Dianne Feinstein’s assertion that Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James B. Comey could amount to obstruction of justice. Pulling references from the Constitution and history, Dershowitz refuted the Democratic senator’s statements in a 831-word op-ed in December.
Topping Dershowitz's advocacy, his latest book, “Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy,” hit bookstores in August.
Trump, in turn, has seized on Dershowitz as his intellectual champion and as a source of legitimacy. Trump recently wrote on Twitter that Dershowitz is a "must watch."
“Legal Scholar Alan Dershowitz was just on @foxandfriends talking of what is going on with respect to the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. political history," Trump wrote. "Enjoy!”
In a Dec. 2017 interview with the New York Times, Trump called Dershowitz “amazing” and said he has “seen him a number of times.”
Dershowitz’s Democratic track record seems to enthrall the President; in the December Times interview, Trump repeatedly referred to Dershowitz as “a liberal Democrat” before citing the professor’s media appearances to back up his claim that his campaign did not collude with the Russians.
“I watched Alan Dershowitz the other day, he said, No. 1, there is no collusion, No. 2, collusion is not a crime, but even if it was a crime, there was no collusion,” Trump told the Times. “And he said that very strongly. He said there was no collusion. And he has studied this thing very closely.”
While Dershowitz has publicly defended the legal authority of Trump and some of his policies, he said he wants to make it clear that he is not a supporter of the president.
“I do not support Trump. I do not support his policies, I go out of my way to condemn his policies. I am not giving him legal advice, I am stating in public what the law is and what the law should be,” Dershowitz said in an interview Thursday.
If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, Dershowitz said he would be making legal arguments similar to those he is making now, with one critical difference: he would have the backing of the Harvard Law School faculty.
“The difference is, I would be joined in those arguments by my colleagues at Harvard, on the left, who are now making the exact opposite arguments. The Republicans would be shouting ‘lock her up’ and trying to impeach her and I would be on the forefront of defending her,” Dershowitz said.
While Harvard Law School is now headed by a conservative dean, the school still falls on the left of the political spectrum. During the Obama administration, at least six Law School professors departed the school to take jobs in the White House. The Clinton campaign approached several Law professors about taking posts in Hillary Clinton’s administration ahead of the 2016 election.
When Trump won, surprising many at Harvard, prominent Law School affiliates were quick to denounce him: professor Lawrence H. Tribe sued Trump in January, and former Dean Martha L. Minow wrote an op-ed sharply rebuking him the following month. And the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at the Law School has spent the past year defending the University and its affiliates against Trump’s immigration policies.
Dershowitz was quick to call out what he sees as hypocrisy among his liberal-leaning colleagues.
“The difference between me and some of my colleagues is I put my views of the Constitution, my views of the rule of law before my partisanship and I make the same arguments, no matter who is the target, no matter who is the president,” he said.
Despite his repeated declarations that he does not agree with the President, Dershowitz’s newfound rapport with Trump has caused some rifts with people close to him, including friends and family. In recent weeks, he and Tribe have sparred on Twitter, and Dershowitz told Politico his public statements on Trump have cost him dinner invites.
“Many of my friends understand what I’m doing. Some don’t out of ignorance, and some don’t out of malice. There are some friends who clearly understand what I am doing but they pretend to misunderstand it,” Dershowitz said in the Thursday interview.
Even at the cost of personal relationships, Dershowitz said he stands by his statements on Trump and his willingness to make the case for controversial positions.
“I get criticism because of my defense of Israel. I get criticism because I’ve defended O.J. Simpson. I get criticism because I defend the free speech of racists and sexists,” he said. “My life is filled with being criticized for standing up for principle. I’m not going to compromise my principles and if anybody is a real friend, they are going to understand that.”
This article has been updated to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: January 26, 2017
Due to an editing error, a previous photo caption accompanying this article incorrectly indicated Law Professor Emeritus Alan M. Dershowitz had not yet retired from Harvard Law School. In fact, he retired in 2013.
—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.
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