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What the Irvine 11 verdict means for free speech

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Jurors have charged 10 of the "Irvine 11" with two misdemeanors each, one count for conspiracy to disturb a meeting and another for disturbing a meeting.

The "Irvine 11" is the name given to a group of Muslim students who disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, at UC Irvine.

The 10 defendants face 56 hours of community service and three years of probation, which will be reduced to one year when the service is completed, but the case itself has implications on the limits of free speech on college campuses.

Gary T. Schwartz professor of law at UCLA, Eugene Volokh, told KPCC's Patt Morrison shortly before the sentencing that the students overstepped their bounds.

"There is no first amendment right to interrupt somebody else's speech," he said. "Especially in a place which is owned by a university, where the university gets to control who gets to enter and who can't, people can't just shout down the speaker."

The students claimed that they had a First Amendment right to speak out against the ambassador. UC Irvine officials told students before the speech that interruptions would not be tolerated.

Volokh cited a California statute that mandates that every person without authority who willfully disturbs or breaks up a meeting is guilty of a misdemeanor.

"The courts have held that this statute applies whenever the defendant substantially impairs the content of the meeting, not by the content of the message but rather because of the noise, for example, he's making, or because of physical obstruction," he said.

"I think in that respect it's a perfectly permissible restriction on speech," he added.

Some who disagree with the verdict posit that proceedings were based on the words the defendants said, not how they delivered them. Volokh believes prosecutors acted fairly and warned that if people want to disrupt a public meeting, they should "be prepared to pay the costs of civil disobedience."


Should the Irvine 11 have been prosecuted? Was this a question of conduct or content? Some say college disruptions are common. Was it worth bringing to trial?

Follow full news coverage on the Irvine 11 with KPCC here.


Eugene Volokh, Gary T. Schwartz professor of law at the UCLA School of Law