By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider whether a protester who was barred from a military base in California violated a federal law when he took part in demonstrations on a public roadway that crosses government-owned land.
The government asked the justices to overturn a lower court ruling in favor of the protester, John Apel. He successfully argued in a federal appeals court that the law, which prevents people from re-entering bases after they are barred, applies only to land over which the military has exclusive authority.
Apel, who protested against nuclear weapons, was barred from Vandenberg Air Force Base but continued to attend demonstrations outside the base entrance. The public roadway on which the protests took place is located on land owned by the government. Apel was convicted of three counts of trespassing on the base.
The appeals court in San Francisco reversed the convictions, ruling that the government did not have an exclusive right of possession of the area where the alleged trespass took place.
In asking the justices to hear the case, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote in court papers that the government "will be unable to fully enforce a significant federal criminal statute on many military bases" if the ruling was left to stand.
Oral arguments and a ruling are due in the court's next term, which begins in October and ends in June 2014.
The case is U.S. v. Apel, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-1038.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Paul Simao)