The Supreme Court basically upheld President Obama’s health-care law Thursday in the final day of its term. Amid all the hubbub over that, it’s important to note they struck down another law – one that made it a crime to lie about winning U.S. military medals.
The court held the First Amendment’s right to be vile pond scum protects those who boast falsely of military decorations as well as your normal, garden-variety slime.
A California man, Xavier Alvarez, had been convicted under the so-called Stolen Valor Act for claiming falsely in 2007 that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for bravery. Congress had passed the law in 2006 “to protect the reputation and meaning” of military decorations after numerous cases of fake heroes had surfaced; the law only banned boasting about unearned medals; wearing unearned medals remains against the law.
The court seemed disinclined to get involved in the sticky business of determining what lies should be criminalized, and suggested the Stolen Valor Act went too far. “The Act seeks to control and suppress all false statements on this one subject in almost limitless times and settings,” the court said in its 6-to-3 ruling. “Permitting the Government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable.”
Some veterans’ groups were not pleased. “The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is greatly disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision that overturns the Stolen Valor Act,” said Richard Denoyer, commander in chief of the VFW. “Despite the ruling, the VFW will continue to challenge far-fetched stories, and to publicize these false heroes to the broadest extent possible as a deterrent to others.”
Troops asked about the ruling at the Pentagon didn’t seem to mind. “If we find someone who does that,” one said unsmilingly, “we know how to handle it.”