Supreme Court: Stolen Valor Act Is Unconstituitonal
There was a another Supreme Court opinion handed down today having nothing to do with health care. It was a ruling on the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a federal crime to lie about having received military honors.
The Supreme Court decided that the law was unconstitutional, with the controlling opinion (written by Justice Kennedy) holding that lying without the intent to defraud is protected speech. From that opinion, which had Roberts, Ginsburg and Sotomayor in concurrence:
…the sweeping, quite unprecedented reach of the statute puts it in conflict with the First Amendment. Here the lie was made in a public meeting, but the statute would apply with equal force to personal, whispered conversations within a home. The statute seeks to control and suppress all false statements on this one subject in almost limitless times and settings. And it does so entirely without regard to whether the lie was made for the purpose of material gain.
Justices Kagan and Breyer concurred in a separate opinion that is less broad in its support for lies as free speech (Kennedy’s opinion will set the precedent in the case), while Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas dissented.
From that dissent, written by Alito:
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 factual statements that inflict real harm and serve no legitimate interest. I would adhere to that principle and would thus uphold the constitutionality of this valuable law.
The question, I think, is whether or not you think lying about receiving military awards does enough harm to rise to the level of a crime.
I agree with the court’s opinion as written by Justice Kennedy. Lying about military honors or service to defraud – to mislead someone for your gain – should be a crime. Indeed, would already be a crime under existing laws outside of this act. Fraud is illegal, whether it involves lying about military honors or not.
But lying about military honors or service just to impress your girlfriend or your friends or something, without the aspect of fraud, shouldn’t be a crime. Despicable, yes. Crime? No.
I have zero respect for people who claim military honors they didn’t actually earn, but there is a difference between “stupid” and “criminal.”Tags: free speech, stolen valor act