17 October 2011

An Interesting Court Case to Watch

It will be interesting if the Supreme Court takes the 9th Circuit's side on the legality of the Stolen Valor Act - that lying about military service and awards is no different than 'fudging' your height/weight on a dating site - or the more narrow view that is related to defamation, which is a Constitutionally-acceptable limit to free speech. It's worth noting that the 9th Circuit is the one that's been most overturned by the Supreme Court over the years, and the ideological makeup of SCOTUS is pretty different from the 9th.

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide the constitutionality of a 2006 law making it a criminal offense to lie about being decorated for military service.

The Stolen Valor Act makes it unlawful to falsely represent, verbally or in writing, to have been “awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item.” The measure imposes penalties of up to a year in prison.

The case before the justices surrounds a federal appeals court decision declaring the law unconstitutional last year (.pdf).

In overturning the law, the San Francisco–based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled if that it were to uphold the law “then there would be no constitutional bar to criminalizing lying about one’s height, weight, age, or financial status on Match.com or Facebook, or falsely representing to one’s mother that one does not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, is a virgin, or has not exceeded the speed limit while driving on the freeway.”

That case, which the Justice Department asked the high court to review, concerns defendant Xavier Alvarez. In 2007, he claimed falsely that as a Marine, he had won the Medal of Honor. He made that public statement during a local Los Angeles suburban water board meeting, in which he had just won a seat on its board of directors.

The government said Alvarez should be prosecuted because the speech fits into the “narrowly limited” classes of speech, such as defamation, that is historically unprotected by the First Amendment. In its petition, the government told the justices that the “court of appeals held facially unconstitutional an act of Congress that plays a vital role in safeguarding the integrity and efficacy of the government’s military honors system.”

Congress, when adopting the law, said fraudulent claims about military honors “damage the reputation and meaning of such decorations and medals.”

By: Brant


EastwoodDC said...

I don't see how this is any different from lying about qualifications or GPA to get a job or benefits. It might be fraud, but that is already illegal.
I could also claim (falsely) that I hold an American Express Gold Card, or that I won a Nobel prize, or that I am the King of Wisconsin. Does that damage the reputation of anyone other than myself?

Anonymous said...

I sure wish they could find some way to make it illegal without jeapordizing any constitutional rights

Matt Purvis said...

Just because we don't like something, doesn't mean it should be illegal. It's a slippery slope...

Brant said...

Dan - I think it comes down to (a) the sensitivity of lying about something like wartime military service, and (b) the difficulty in the common civilian in checking it. If you lie about your GPA, most people know how to contact a school to check on that. If someone's lying about having earned a Distinguished Flying Cross, how do you check that? Most civilians don't even know what it is - much like they don't know what most of the badges/awards on a military uniform are.

And while I hope they can find a way to make it illegal without violating the Constitution (like the anon poster above), if they can't, I'd rather them not monkey with the Constitution and we just have to find another way to publicly expose/shame these assholes.

Anonymous said...

those shitheads should just get locked in a room with a few real Navy SEALS and see what happens

Matt Purvis said...

Anon- That's the reason we don't need a law. Eventually, said liars will meet the real deal.