Supreme Court

Oh, There Was That Other Supreme Court Ruling, Too: Stolen Valor Act Struck Down

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Before it began raining broccoli across America this morning, the Supreme Court also ruled on whether it was legal to lie about having received military medals or honors.  It is. Or rather, it is for now, due to the vague wording of the Stolen Valor Act. Tejinder Singh of SCOTUSblog (and is this their moment, or what?) explains:

Justice Kennedy announced a plurality opinion [pdf] – joined by the Chief Justice, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Sotomayor – and concluding that the Stolen Valor Act infringes on protected speech. The plurality reasoned that, with only narrow exceptions, content-based restrictions on speech face strict scrutiny, and are therefore almost always unconstitutional. False statements of fact do not fall within one of these exceptions, and so the Stolen Valor Act can survive strict scrutiny only if it is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest. The Court concluded that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional because the Government had not shown that the statute is necessary to protect the integrity of the system of military honors – the interest the Government had identified in support of the Act.

Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Kagan, concurred separately, concluding that the Stolen Valor Act, as drafted, violates intermediate scrutiny. These Justices argued that intermediate scrutiny is the appropriate standard because the Government should have some ability to regulate false statements of fact. However, because the statute, as drafted, applies even in family, social, or other private contexts where lies will often cause little harm; it includes few other limits on its scope, and it creates too significant a burden on protected speech. The concurring Justices believe that the Government could achieve its goals in a less burdensome way, and so they too held the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional.  This opinion leaves open the possibility that Congress will re-write the law more narrowly. Three Justices, led by Justice Alito, dissented.

So, Congress can't just pass a law that criminalizes a lie about one's military history in all situations without violating the First Amendment. But the Court says a more narrowly tailored law could possibly survive scrutiny.