SCOTUS gets it right on the Stolen Valor Act
In the Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson film, “Wedding Crashers” two bachelors attend a wedding uninvited to pick-up women. In one scene they bring fake purple hearts to a wedding while claiming to be war heroes in order to receive free drinks. Hilarious in a movie. Not so funny in real life.
The Stolen Valor Act was one of those republican, feel-good, patriotism bills that made it a federal crime to lie about one’s involvement in military service, if the liar was not a service member. Two weeks ago, in a 6-3 opinion, Justice Kennedy sided with Xavier Alvarez, who admitted that while he lied about his non-existent medals of honor, his lie was protected by the First Amendment.
He was right.
Scalia, Thomas and Alito who are brilliant heroes to American jurisprudence got it wrong on this one. This is really intuitive. Unless a lie is being told under oath or to obstruct justice, perpetrate a fraud resulting in the loss of someone else’s life, liberty or property, the government can’t really be in the business of investigating and prosecuting lies.
Humans lie, and when they do so to other citizens they are nonetheless protected by the First Amendment.
Mr. Alvarez certainly isn’t someone to be admired after lying to a group of people at a local municipal meeting, but he shouldn’t be criminally liable for the mistake.
Sure, this kind of behavior is despicable but so is Westboro Baptist Church and Hustler Magazine, who both have received protection under the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects speech we don’t agree with. It protects “hate” speech. It protects religious speech. It protects an unfair characterization of your opinion of another. It doesn’t protect some pornography and fighting words, and that is how it should remain.
The best form of punishment Mr. Alvarez can receive is the judgment of his community as a liar and a fraud. That is the way a free society should function – through the actions of a civilians peers. Not through the legislation of Neo-cons in Washington D.C.