Conviction of the “Irvine Ten” is Constitutionally Sound

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Ten students who set out to prevent Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren from speaking to students at the University of California Irvine campus have been convicted of a California misdemeanor and sentenced to probation and a fine.  The California statute is designed to protect the First Amendment rights of a speaker and his audience against those who would censor the speaker by deliberately disruptive conduct.  The conduct engaged in by the students, acting on behalf of a University of California Muslim group, was more than merely disruptive in the sense of episodic booing or heckling.  It was calculated to “shut down”, in the words of one of the students, Ambassador Oren.  In such a case, the First Amendment is clearly on the side of the prosecutor who seeks to prevent the censorship of protected speech, rather than on the side of those who have conspired to censor speech with which they disagree.

No reputable constitutional scholar would defend the right of students to conspire to prevent an invited speaker from presenting his speech.  Most universities have rules prohibiting the “heckler’s veto” from silencing an invited speaker.  Yet, because the students in this case were Muslims who were trying to prevent an Israeli diplomat from speaking, many on the hard left are making heroes of these ten censors, and villains of prosecutors who did their duty in protecting the First Amendment.  Even the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which is supposed to protect the First Amendment right of speakers, came down on the wrong side of this issue.

The Dean of the University of California at Irvine Law School, Erwin Chemerinsky, has tried to split the difference by arguing that the conviction was constitutional, that the “jury which found them guilty faithfully applied [the] law to the facts of this case,” but that the prosecutor who brought the case against these students “failed in his most important duty: to do justice.”  While I understand why a dean might take this somewhat convoluted position on prudential grounds, Chemerinsky’s argument simply doesn’t hold water.

Chemerinsky “strongly disagree[s] with those who try to defend the students as engaging in free speech.”  He acknowledges that “the First amendment does not protect the right of people to go into an auditorium and try to shout down a speaker.”  He is right in concluding that “no court would find that the students were engaged in protected speech.”  So far, we agree.  But he goes onto argue that the prosecutor should have employed his discretion to decline prosecution against these students, because they had already been disciplined by the university.  But the university discipline has been worn by the students as a red badge of courage.  They have been treated as heroes and the slap on the wrist discipline has certainly not deterred them or other students from conspiring to silence other controversial speakers, especially those who try to make the case for Israel.

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  • Ruthlessma

    Their names should be made public for all to see.

  • myohmy

    this is just a slap on the wrist of these terrorist wannabees. this is a serious crime and moreso because of where it happened, in the halls of one of our nations universities that should be teaching and adhering to all our constitutional rights in this country. Instead the university says the prosecutor should not have taken them to court and held them accountable. WHAT? If the university had permanently expelled these criminals maybe the prosecutor might have left it alone. But the university shirked it's duty and responsibility to act in a reasonalbe and lawful way. We must not allow our universities to set such a putrid example for our young students who might one day be our nation's leaders. The dumbing down of America and the disrespect of our Constitution is a very serious assault on America and we the people better not ignore it. Stand up for our Constitution or lose everything.

  • Larry

    If any of them are not US citizens they should be shipped back to their sand boxes.

  • maturin20

    They shouldn't be treated as heroes, but their conviction is no good thing for constitutionality or free speech. The "open marketplace of ideas" in a modern US university is a bad joke. The narrowness of views expressed in our academies is legendary.

    • nightspore

      In this context, these remarks make no sense. Can't you people ever restrain yourselves from engaging in this kind of sophistry? And what does the last sentence have to do with the issue at hand?

      What would they have to do for you to convict them, physically attack the Ambassador?

      • maturin20

        Who people? Me people?

        The last sentence is just a wail of sorrow at the passivity of US academies.

        Sure, a physical assault would be a pretty straightforward case. But speech is speech and action is action.

      • aspacia

        They would make a choice; they would not HAVE to do anything.

        • maturin20

          Well, we don't want people to just roll over for any crazy speaker who walks into town, now do we? That would be un-American.

    • intrcptr2

      While your crack about American universities being a bad joke is accurate, you ought to go buy a mirror, because it is the likes of you that have brought it to this point.

      Get back to us when any university here in the States attempts to muzzle a Muslim.

      I like the sound of that, just kinda rolls…
      muzzle a Muslim

      let 'em talk, then yank their visas.

      • maturin20

        I have a shaving mirror already, but I can't see any blame on my chin.

        They don't have to muzzle anyone, they just don't invite them to speak, don't teach about them, generally ignore them.

  • Raymond in DC

    "It was another good day for the First Amendment when the jury appropriately convicted them." But was probation and community service an adequate punishment. I think not. It was for the university to suspend or expel them, for the courts to jail them. And if they were here on a student visa, deportation would have sent a strong message that such behavior is not tolerated here.

    As to Dershowitz' remark that the ACLU of SC "came down on the wrong side of this issue", it's more often than not that ACLU comes down "on the wrong side" of an issue. So no surprise to me here.

  • mrbean

    Put them all out in separate areas in the general population of San Quentin and we shall see how long they last.

  • Flipside

    If they were Jewish, I am sure Dershowitz would have found the verdict “Constitutionally unsound.”

    • nightspore

      In this case, you're clever enough not to make a statement directly in favor of the defendents, so you make an equivalent point (attitude-wise) by attempting to tie the verdict to the supposed bias of the author. (This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder if we're all programmed to be able to make dubious rhetorical manoeuvers. On the other hand, there's a mixture of cleverness and shallowness in this comment – within this context – that is quite extraordinary.)

      • Flipside

        I don’t believe the defendants had a right to shout down the speaker. I also don’t believe the defendants would have been allowed to make any decent points in a question and answer session. It’s possible, but more likely the speaker would have blathered on and question and answer time would bs cropped. Personally, I think truthful gotcha questions are much more effective than repeated interruptions. Times have changed though, in the past 15 years. Questions tend to be pre-screened.

        I do observe by the pattern of his cumulative writings and by his speeches here in town that Alan Dershowitz is biased. He is a master of apologetics. It is also evident that he believes the Israel Lobby should be ruled as a private corporation with secretive internal dialogue.

        • ajnn

          huh ? darned incoherent except for the reference to the 'edlders of zion' (see " Israel Lobby should be ruled as a private corporation with secretive internal dialogue".

          Flipside always includes something racist about jews in his comments.

      • Joe Kelsall

        I believe there is some logic to Nightspore’s comment. The fact that the Israelis who were filming and ‘documenting’ 9/11 were allowed to exit the USA is , I believe, proof of that.

        • Joey Dumass

          Joe – The fact that you are perpetuating this fantasy proves you are not afforded the luxury of claiming logic to any argument you put forth.

        • Sashland

          Joe: Bin Laden disagrees with you and Iran.

          You a Paulian?

          • UCSPanther

            He is, and a very clueless one at that. Flipbrain admitted that, and somehow thinks he can convert us to us bizarro way of thinking.

          • Amused

            C'mon flipside , you're just an anti-semite , spit it out man , your charade is transparent , this recent statement in conjunction with numerous other remarks made by you , makes it quite clear .

  • Marty

    If a muslim speaker had been interrupted by non-muslims, the media would have been hysterical and the non-muslim accused of islamophobia. Happily, justice was served (at least, this time), though the anti-semitic islamic slugs who hated the idea of the Israeli ambassador giving a presentation will no doubt return to torment other speakers exercising their First Amendment rights. After all, they are on the road to martyrdom.

  • Ben

    This is not the "Jewish question" but it was conviniently for the Jewish Dean to defend the Muslims as the expression of his impartiality,remember Golstone.

  • 080

    The difficulty is that the whole affair should have been decided in the university, not in the courts. Suspend the students for a year or two and then see if the repellant behavior continues.

  • Amused

    I think it's great they got convicted .Kudos to the prosecutor and the defense of The First Amendment . Now what about those guys who disrupted , shouted down speakers and shut down those Town Hall meetings ??

  • NotaBene

    I've been to I don't know how many public events, every ideology, every possible view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, heard dozens of people yell things during speeches, heard chants, songs, attempts to drown out the speaker etc. etc. Not once have I seen anybody get arrested for doing it.

    Go back to news clips from the 70s and 80s; Carter, Reagan, Thatcher et al. could hardly give speeches for the chorus of booing in the background. Did those people get dragged off and convicted of anything?

    Oren was interrupted for a grand total of one minute. He's awfully thin-skinned for a supposedly tough Israeli.

    • Larry

      You obviously didn't read it properly. They weren't just getting up and booing, heckling, and being generally obnoxious. It was a pre-planned, coordinated, and deliberate attempt to stop Oren speaking.

      Thus it is a clear breach of the First Amendment. It is a very simple situation, but as so often seems to be the case, simpletons fail to discern this fact.

  • Amused

    That's right , a clear conspiracy by a group to shout down and shutdown a scheduled speaker . Thereby ABRIDGING FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS OF THAT SPEAKER in a public auditorium .
    ….just like teabaggers did at town hall meetings …it was planned ,thereby making a coinspiracy….just like the Irvine Ten . There IS a difference between this sort of planned disruption in an auditorium or TOWN HALL , and out on a public street which would make such behavior an exercise of free speech . One can conclude hat atleast in opinions expressed , there is a clear DOUBLE STANDARD .

  • sedoanman

    Why is this law a constitutional issue? Sounds like common sense to me since no one would have free speech rights if everyone shouted at the same time.

    One more thing. The ACLU would defend as a form of free speech an arsonist's attempt to burn down their NY headquarters.

  • Amused

    I knew sooner or later someone would add STUPIDITY to the discussion . congrats sedoanman