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Supreme Court to Rule on Constitutionality of 'Stolen Valor Act'

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of U.S. v. Alvarez, which presents the question of the constitutionality of the "Stolen Valor Act." The Stolen Valor Act prohibits people from falsely claiming they have been awarded military decorations and medals, and states that:

Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

As I discussed here last year, in July 2010 a federal district court in Denver ruled that the act violates free speech, and rejected the argument that lying about having military medals dilutes their meaning and significance. A month later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also considered the issue in a separate case (the Alvarez case), and held (via Threat Level) that the "speech" involved in the case -- lying about being awarded military medals -- was within the scope of the First Amendment. The 9th Circuit therefore applied "strict scrutiny review to the Act, and [held] it unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored to achieving a compelling governmental interest." The court observed that if the Stolen Valor Act was constitutional, as argued by a dissenting judge,

then there would be no constitutional bar to criminalizing lying about one’s height, weight, age, or financial status on or Facebook, or falsely representing to one’s mother that one does not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, is a virgin, or has not exceeded the speed limit while driving on the freeway. The sad fact is, most people lie about some aspects of their lives from time to time. Perhaps, in context, many of these lies are within the government’s legitimate reach. But the government cannot decide that some lies may not be told without a reviewing court’s undertaking a thoughtful analysis of the constitutional concerns raised by such government interference with speech.  

Additional information and case documents from the Alvarez case are available at SCOTUSBlog.

Posted by Bruce Carton on October 17, 2011 at 04:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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