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A 'Bizarre Notion' of Constitutionality

August 09, 1987

I have observed with mounting disgust the sanctimonious posturing, first of our city attorney, Robert Myers ("Saint Bob," as he is known behind his back in City Hall), our mayor, James Conn, and now council members (Dennis) Zane and (David) Finkel, who publicly conspire to travel and trespass at a defense establishment in Nevada (Times, July 19). That the ceremony has become a risk-free ritual is amusing but of secondary importance.

Let us set aside the question of whether their objective, to proclaim that nuclear war is a Bad Thing and support Mr. Gorbachev's position in the arms negotiations, is worthy and concentrate on their methods.

To their critics, (they) . . . proclaim that they have a "constitutional right" to engage in civil disobedience. This bizarre notion deliberately confuses the right to advocate almost any inanity with the right to interfere physically with military operations and the property of others. There is in fact no such constitutional right, which is why civil disobedience is a crime. The whole point, one imagines, is to give moral witness by courting arrest.

This quartet is free to picket, leaflet and speechify to their hearts' content. Nothing in the Constitution or in any notion of ordered liberty authorizes them to block trucks, sit in or otherwise trespass.

Their second line of defense is that the issue is important and their moral conviction deep. But there are many important issues about which moral convictions are deep. I happen to think that the numerous pro-Sandinista and pro-guerrilla groups in town are supporters of murderers and tyrants, as evil in their own way as Nazis. If I were to "put my body on the line" by blocking the podium every time these folks tried to speak, or sitting in at their offices, would Saint Bob decline to prosecute me because I believe deeply in my cause? (This is the same Bob Myers whom I once heard threaten to arrest local peace crank Jerry Rubin because he insisted on speaking past his time limit at the City Council.)

In a society where there is access to the ballot box and freedom of speech, there would appear to be little justification for committing criminal acts to publicize one's cause. When blacks in South Africa, or in our own South in the past, were denied access to the ballot box and the courts, their civil disobedience may have been justified. Here and now, it is simply a means of ripping up the social fabric.

(U. S. Rep. Louis) Stokes, in the Iran hearings, spoke eloquently of defending this country as a black soldier in a segregated Army. He followed orders and obeyed the law because he saw in our system of laws a means by which his people could one day achieve equality. Stokes had far more provocation to disrespect the law than do these pampered, aging hippies.

We have heard numerous other speeches by liberal congressmen about the rule of law in recent days. Apparently the radical left does not think the principle applies to them, only to government activity they dislike.

They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

DAVID G. EPSTEIN

Santa Monica

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