Alvarez’s Lies Go Unpunished, For Now: Supreme Court Strikes Down Stolen Valor Act
On June 28, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded in United States v. Alvarez, that The Stolen Valor Act (the Act) violated the First Amendment, specifically the right to free speech. The Act was created by Congress in response to an increase in false claims of receiving the Medal of Honor. The Act would have made it a crime to make these false claims.
Xavier Alvarez, respondent, made false claims to have received a Congressional Medal of Honor, which violates the federal criminal statute, the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. 18 U.S.C.§ 704. Violators of this statute, “shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both.” These false claims were made in a speech by Alvarez at a Three Valley Water District Board meeting in which he was a board member.
Supreme Court Decision:
Justice Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Sotomayor affirmed the Ninth Circuit, which previously reversed by concluding the Act unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Kagan concurred with their main focus being on the wide “breadth of the Act” being the most troublesome and the “lack of intermediate scrutiny.” Specifically, the language in the Act stating, “The Act seeks to control and suppress all false statements on this subject in almost limitless times and settings without regard to whether the lie was made for purpose of material gain.” They stressed that this limitless act, “creates a significant risk of the First Amendment harm.”
Justice Alito dissented, and was joined by Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas.
While this ruling will be seen as unfavorable as many support the protection of the highest military honor for those who sacrifice their health and lives for our country, it is unlikely that this debate is over. The justices opine that Congress would be more successful in obtaining their goal by creating, “a more finely tailored statute, for example, a statute that requires a showing that the false statement caused specific harm.” There was no showing of direct personal or financial gain by Alvarez through his statements and although grossly false, no direct harm was found.
Below is the direct link to a copy of the decision through the Supreme Court website:
*Allison Rogers is a Legal Publication Specialist at the National Law Review