Stolen Valor Act Struck Down By Supreme Court

Everyone’s talking about the Supreme Court’s ruling on Health Care today, but the justices also ruled on the Stolen Valor Act. The judges voted 6-3 in favor of Xavier Alvarez, who was prosecuted after lying about his military service.

In the court ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that many people may find Alvarez’s actions contemptible, but acknowledged that Alvarez’s false claims are protected by freedom of speech.

USA Today reports that Alvarez falsely claimed that he had received the Medal of Honor. He was prosecuted under the Stolen Valor Act and given three years probation and a $5000 fine.

Anthony wrote:

“Though few might find (Alvarez’s) statements anything but contemptible, his right to make those statements is protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech and expression. The Stolen Valor Act infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment…. (The First Amendment) protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace.”

Fang Wong, national commander of the American Legion, said that he was disappointed with the ruling but was hopeful that a more concise bill would be passed at a later date. Kennedy wrote that the current Stolen Valor Act would make any false statement about military service illegal, even private conversations at home.

Wong said:

“We felt good about portions of the decision which suggest that a more narrowly tailored bill which incorporates traditional fraud elements would be upheld.”

Justices Samuel Alito, who dissented in the Alvarez case, said:

“These lies have no value in and of themselves, and proscribing them does not chill any valuable speech… By holding that the First Amendment nevertheless shields these lies, the court breaks sharply from a long line of cases recognizing that the right to free speech does not protect false statements that inflict real harm and serve no legitimate interest.”