The government may not be able to fix the stagnant domestic economy or the abysmal unemployment rate, but at least it can hold liars accountable for falsely claiming that they have received military medals for valor.
Or can it?
Earlier this month, a Maryland judge dismissed a case against Aaron Lawless, an Army and Marine vet who was named Glock's 2008 Hero of the Year Award after falsely claiming to have earned four Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, and one Silver Star while serving in Iraq. Lawless was charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act, a law the Maryland judge ruled was unconstitutional. The Maryland judge is not the only jurist of that opinion.
In a 2010 case, USA v. Alvarez, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reached a similar conclusion protecting free speech, noting that a holding otherwise could potentially criminalize everyday white lies. "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," the court wrote.
A Denver federal judge also struck the law last year. In fact, only one federal court, in Virginia, has validated the Stolen Valor Act.
In August, the Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to overturn the circuit courts and uphold the Stolen Valor Act. The government maintains that "fraudulent claims" of military honors fall within the "narrowly limited" classes of speech, such as defamation, that fall outside of the First Amendment protections, according to Wired.
Should the Supreme Court uphold the Stolen Valor Act?
While we think that lying about military service is despicable, and that those who lie about military accolades should be shunned by society, we can't help feeling that this is a ridiculous case for High Court scrutiny.
One could reasonably argue this boils down to the case equivalent of testing the legality of Wedding Crashers pick-up tactics. If a person commits fraud, then charge that person under existing fraud laws. Carving out niche laws to specify that certain types of speech are illegal wastes both time and court resources.
Despite good intentions, the Stolen Valor Act is unnecessary.
- FindLaw's Supreme Court blog (FindLaw)
- The High Court: Is lying protected speech? Military-medal case on track for Supreme Court (The Washington Post)
- Litigating the Stolen Valor Act: Do False Claims of Heroism in Battle Harm Genuine Heroes? (FindLaw's Library)
- Stolen Valor Act Under Consideration by Courts (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life)