Friday, September 23, 2011

UC-Irvine Students Found Guilty of Disrupting Ambassador's Speech

Guilty of disturbing a public meeting and conspiracy?  Or exercising free speech rights? 

That was the issue before an Orange County, California jury deciding the case of the sometimes-called "Irvine 11" or " Irvine Muslim Students 11" who disrupted a speech at UC-Irvine by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010.  The 10 students on trial (the case against another student was dismissed) argued their protest was within the First Amendment, but the prosecution reportedly argued that the students had acted to deny Oren of his free speech rights by exercising a "heckler's veto" and "censorship."

An edited version of the protests and attempted speech, with the reactions of university officials, other audience members, and police officers is worth watching:


The OC Register has a slide show and coverage of the contentious litigation, including the decision to charge the students criminally.  Many law professors and other scholars and students called on the DA to drop the charges.

While the jury found the defendants guilty, the judge quickly sentenced the defendants to probation and no incarceration according to the LA Times.


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The case may remind some professors about the pre-Constitutional case of Respublica v. de Longchamps, 1 U.S. 111 (1784). In that case, the Chevalier de Longchamps was indicted of threatening violence to the consul-general of France to the state of Pennsylvania. He actually made an assault on the consul-general (something none of the Irvine students did) by striking the consul-general's cane. The jury convicted him of assault. The decision by Chief Justice McKean of Pennsylvania in sentencing the Chevalier stated that the crime was:

an infraction of the law of nations. This law, in its full extent, is part of the law of this state, and is to be collected from the practice of different nations, and the authority of writers. The person of a public minister is sacred and inviolable. Whoever offers any violence to him, not only affronts the sovereign he represents, but also hurts the common safety and well-being of nations--he is guilty of a crime against the whole world.

Further, he wrote (in language we really wouldn't see today in a court opinion):

You then have been guilty of an atrocious violation of the law of nations; you have grossly insulted gentlemen, the peculiar objects of this law (gentlemen of amiable characters, and highly esteemed by the government of this state), in a most wanton and unprovoked manner: and it is now the interest as well as the duty of this government, to animadvert upon your conduct with a becoming severity--such a severity as may tend to reform yourself, to deter others from the commission of the like crime, preserve the honor of the state, and maintain peace with our great and good ally [France], and the whole world. . . .

As Mark Weston Janis and John Noyes note in their casebook on International Law (on page 264, 4th edition), the De Longchamps case "provided ammunition for those favoring the creation of a federal judiciary under the U.S. Constitution with jurisdiction to hear cases involving foreign citizens." And as Constitutional scholars will remember, Article III(2) of the U.S. Constitution now provides that the judicial power of the United States shall extend "to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls . . . ."

Posted by: mew | Sep 24, 2011 2:28:20 AM

Wow- so much going on in this clip from a legal standpoint. Some many issues to consider- but perhaps one of the most non-obvious ones comes at 5:24. The professor is telling people being escorted out of the building, people who seem to be his students, that they are "failing their exams".

Is there precedent on the subject of lawsuits brought on against a professor failing a student for "political protest" or whatever these action turn out to be legally defined?

Posted by: Danny | Sep 26, 2011 10:00:44 PM

Danny - - - I have to say, I noticed that also! I think the matter would first be decided in a university grade appeal or similar process. I can't imagine a university upholding a failing grade for these actions. "Is there such a provision on the syllabus?" would be my first question if I were on the university committee. Very formalistic, certainly!
But no case comes to mind, I must admit.

Posted by: RR | Sep 28, 2011 10:30:26 AM

Danny, after this incident when I saw that guy saying you will fail I asked around and no one could confirm that he is a professor at UC Irvine. I asked around quite a bit so it is unlikely he is a professor.

Posted by: J.K. | Sep 30, 2011 12:48:47 PM

JK: I have to admit, I am glad to hear that!

Posted by: RR | Oct 2, 2011 6:26:35 PM

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