Erwin Chemerinsky, UCI Law School Dean, Argues Free-Speech Case Before Supreme Court

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine's School of Law, is scheduled to argue an important free-speech case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., today.

A prominent constitutional scholar, Chemerinsky is the attorney for John Dennis Apel, who goes by his middle name and whatever you want to call him is at the center of a First Amendment case based on his arrest for protesting military activities at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc.

The case actually sprang from UCI's Appellate Litigation Clinic, School of Law spokesman Rex Bossert tells the Weekly.

Since 1997, Apel attended monthly peace protests outside Vandenberg, which has set aside a zone behind a thick green line in the pavement about 200 yards from a guard station for such demonstrations. In the run up to the 2003 Iraq War, Apel had a doctor draw his blood at a medical clinic that was part of the Catholic Worker house he and his wife run in Guadalupe, a town north of Vandenberg. One night, Apel poured the blood from a bottle over the letters of a Vandenberg entrance sign, to symbolize innocent blood that would be shed in Iraq, just as it had on Sept. 11, 2001, in the U.S.

The stunt resulted in a conviction for vandalism and trespassing, the latter of which he'd be convicted for a second time in 2007. Apel was also banned from U.S. government military installations, but he continued to attend the regular peace protests at Vandenberg where, he says, he dutifully stayed behind the green line. That didn't prevent him from being arrested three times in 2010 within the protest zones, and those arrests are the basis for Apel v. U.S.

Citing national security concerns, the government argues Apel should not be allowed to step foot on any military property, even within the zones set aside for protests. Apel and Chemerinsky counter that violates the demonstrator's First Amendment free-speech rights. "Apel was arrested and convicted for exercising his constitutional right to peacefully protest the military's activities," Apel claims in his brief. "Neither the First Amendment nor [the federal law] permits this result."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed with the 63-year-old, overturning Apel's convictions, which have allowed him to return to the protest zone. But the government appealed to the Supreme Court.

Apel says he finds it "surreal" and "bizarre" the government continues to press the case. "I can't even imagine they took this thing to our local court," he reportedly told the Washington Post recently. "I thought they'd just keep arresting me forever, hoping that someday I'd just finally stop."

Besides protecting his own rights, Apel said he hopes his case brings attention to a larger issue: the expansion of warfare and weaponry into space. "In all the back-and-forth about easements and jurisdictions and statutory arguments--and even in the First Amendment issues, what gets completely lost is, why do we go out there in the first place?"

Email: Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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