Stolen Valor Act case: a checklist of things to watch
-- First Amendment Center Legal Correspondent
Monday, February 20, 2012
WASHINGTON — Unlike some other recent First Amendment cases the Supreme Court has handled, United States v. Alvarez
is a tough one to call.
Set for argument on Feb. 22, the case asks whether the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime falsely to claim having won a military honor, violates freedom of speech.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law unconstitutional in the case of Xavier Alvarez, a local politician in Pomona, Calif., who was convicted for claiming in a public speech that he had won the Medal of Honor, when in fact he had never even served in the military.
On one hand, the Court has often said, at least in passing, that false speech deserves little or no First Amendment protection. And lying about a military honor could pull at the justices’ patriotic heart strings. On the other hand, do justices really want the government criminalizing seemingly inconsequential lies, when politicians, spouses, teenagers and dentists (“It won’t hurt a bit”) lie more or less daily? As 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote at an earlier stage of the case, “living means lying.”