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House Passes New Stolen Valor Act: Is it Constitutional?

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 14, 2012 3:24 PM

The House of Representatives passed a new and allegedly improved version of the Stolen Valor Act on Thursday by a vote of 410-3.

So are we headed for another Supreme Court Stolen Valor battle?

Congress adopted the original Stolen Valor Act in 2005, making it a crime to falsely claim receipt of military decorations or medals, and providing an enhanced penalty for false claims involving the Congressional Medal of Honor. In June, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced that the Act was an unconstitutional limit on free speech. Justice Breyer, in a concurring opinion, noted that a more narrowly-tailored version of the Act might be able to withstand scrutiny.

The new version, H.R. 1775, limits penalties to valor-thieves who lie about military service or make false claims about receiving military medals with the intent of benefiting from those claims, reports CBS. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Heck, said, "Defining the intent helps ensure that this law will pass constitutional scrutiny."

Actually, defining both "intent" and "benefit" will probably help this version of the bill. The new language penalizes a faux-fighter who has the "intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit." ("Tangible benefit" could still be somewhat ambiguous, but any challenge to the outer limit of tangibility would at least be interesting.)

Under the Brown-Heck Stolen Valor Act, violators can be slapped with a fine and up to one year's imprisonment. Maximum penalties are reserved for liars who falsely claim to have served in a combat zone or a special operations force, or who say they were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Scott Brown's companion version will be considered.

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