The Supreme Court’s got more than health care left to decide, including a case about whether it’s a crime to lie about being a military hero.
The federal Stolen Valor Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005. The law makes it illegal to falsely claim to be the recipient of military honors and decorations and can be punishable by fines and up to a year in jail.
The law was challenged by lawyers for Xavier Alvarez, a former California water district board member who lied at a public meeting about receiving a Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor in combat.
Alvarez had never even served in the military.
He was sentenced to three years of probation, a $5,000 fine and community service. His attorneys appealed, arguing that his lie wasn’t criminal and should be protected under the First Amendment. Last year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear his case.
Most Stolen Valor prosecutions so far have been on those who have not committed what would traditionally be called fraud. That is, a lie perpetrated in order to receive a tangible benefit, such as veterans benefits or such. Instead, most have received the intangible benefit of public goodwill that comes from the high esteem our country currently places on honorable military service.
I’m always leery of any government attempt to restrict speech, even lies. Normally, I’d argue that public condemnation and shaming are the right path to punishing those liars. But I do believe the benefit of public esteem and goodwill accrued by lying liars what lie about military service amounts to such a substantial benefit that the Stolen Valor Act is indeed a valid use of the force of law. We’ll just have to wait to tomorrow to see if the Supreme Court and I are in agreement.