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Supreme Court considers 'free speech zones'

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Updated: 12/04/2013 10:59 pm
(NBC News) -- A case before the Supreme Court Wednesday could impact where and when people can protest on land belonging to the military.

It all centers around a California man arrested while protesting at Vandenberg Air Force Base and a law that says the military can keep security threats off their property.

It's the easement, set aside for protesting along a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway controlled by the Air Force base that's gotten so much attention.

Anti-war protester Dennis Apel says he has a right to use that space.

But the government disagrees.

Apel was barred from base property after being arrested for trespassing multiple times.

The base is setting out to deny me my right to dissent at their base. That's what they're doing," Ape claims.

Inside the high court, justices said this case isn't about free speech but property rights.

Justice Anthony Kennedy called the law clear saying,"The military has the right to exercise control over the easement property."

And a majority of the justices seemed to agree.

But some had concerns; specifically whether the military gives up some control, when they open certain areas like the Vandenberg protest zone to the public.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor commented, "You've got a public school, a public highway"

All of which are on property controlled by the military.

"There is a first amendment right to protest on public roads," said Apel's attorney Erwin Chemerinksy.

The government argues, in this case, that public road still belongs to them.

And they have a legal right to act in the name of national security.

It's now the justices to decide just how far the military's reach should go.

At least two more cases this term will touch on free speech in some way.

The first one comes in January and deals with protests outside abortion clinics.

-- Danielle Leigh, NBC News, reports

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