Justice Anthony Kennedy ended the 2011 Term not as a swing vote, but as a philosopher. In his last majority opinion of the term, Justice Kennedy explained that the Stolen Valor Act, as written, violates the First Amendment, and that public should fight liars with words, not laws.
"The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true. This is the ordinary course in a free society. The response to the unreasoned is the rational; to the uninformed, the enlightened; to the straight-out lie, the simple truth," Kennedy wrote.
The Stolen Valor Act criminalized false claims of military decorations or medals, and provided an additional penalty for lies invoking the Congressional Medal of Honor. When Xavier Alvarez announced during a water board meeting that he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, he violated that law.
In 2010, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law was unconstitutional, noting that, under the reasoning for the Act, "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."
Justice Kennedy agreed, writing for the majority, "Though few might find respondent's statements anything but contemptible, his right to make those statements is protected by the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech and expression. The Stolen Valor Act infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment."
Alvarez's original public defender, Brianna Fuller, told The Associated Press, "We're obviously very pleased with the decision, as is our client. While we have utmost respect for our men and women in uniform, we've always believed that we honor them best by protecting the 'precepts of the Constitution for which they fought,' as Justice Kennedy said in this morning's opinion."
Lying about being a decorated veteran seems like a funny way to honor real veterans, but to each his own.
- U.S. v. Alvarez (FindLaw's CaseLaw)
- Stop, Valor Thief? DOJ Asks for Supreme Court Speech Opinion (FindLaw's Supreme Court Blog)
- SCOTUS Overturns 10th Circuit on Stolen Valor Act (FindLaw's Tenth Circuit Blog)