The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared reluctant to give First Amendment protection to a California peace activist who has been barred from demonstrating at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Hearing arguments in the case United States v. Apel, most justices seemed eager to avoid a First Amendment ruling, preferring instead to base their decision on a federal law that the government says gives base commanders broad power to control public access to military installations.
John Dennis Apel, who says he has demonstrated at the base regularly for the past 17 years, was barred from doing so after he vandalized a base sign in 2003 by splashing his own blood on it. But Apel argued that he should still be able to participate in protests in an area outside the base that has been reserved for free speech activities since 1989. The land is owned by the Air Force, but county and state governments have easements because it is adjacent to Route 1, a public highway.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in Apel’s favor, finding that because of the easements, the base commander does not have exclusive power over the land and cannot banish protesters permanently.
In part because the Ninth Circuit based its ruling on 18 U.S.C. 1382, the statute governing reentry of barred individuals, not on any constitutional claim, justices pounced on Apel’s lawyer whenever he invoked the First Amendment. Apel was in the audience.
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Frequent flyers may experience the occasional bump from a full flight, but what do they do if they get bumped out of their frequent-flyer program? Well, they end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, of course!
The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that when it comes to picking the forum where a business dispute should be resolved, a contract is a contract.
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