Court: Stolen Valor Act Unconstitutional

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Monday upheld an earlier ruling by three of its members that a law making it illegal to lie about being a military hero violates free speech.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision strikes down the so-called Stolen Valor Act passed by Congress in 2006.

It also vacates a judgment and fines leveled against Xavier Alvarez, of Pomona, Calif., a water district board member who said at a public meeting in 2007 that he was a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration. Alvarez had never served in Marines or in any other branch of the armed forces, according to the court ruling.

Alvarez was indicted in 2007. He pleaded guilty on condition that he would be allowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds. He was sentenced under the Stolen Valor Act to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans hospital and fined $5,000.

Making lies of that sort would implicate “the JDater who falsely claims he’s Jewish or the dentist who assures you it won’t hurt a bit,” Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote. “Phrases such as ‘I’m working late tonight, hunny,’ ‘I got stuck in traffic’ and ‘I didn’t inhale’ could all be made into crimes,” Kozinski wrote in denying a full-court re-hearing of the case.

The Stolen Valor Act revised and toughened a law that forbids anyone to wear a military medal that wasn’t earned.

Dozens of people have been arrested under the law at a time when veterans coming home from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are being embraced as heroes. Many of the cases involve men who simply got caught living a lie without profiting from it. Almost all the impostors have been ordered to perform community service.

Seven of the court’s 26 active judges disagreed, signing a dissent from the decision not to rehear the Alvarez case, the first in which someone was charged and convicted under the challenged act, the court said.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment on whether government lawyers will appeal the decision.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

  • Jay Allen

    Telling lies is not unconstitutional. I imagine the reason the law against lying was drawn up is because somebody wanted to burn somebody for lying about our sacred traditions. However, doesn’t calling the public’s attention to the the type of lye we are so worried about take care of it? And without weakening our constitution?

  • Bob

    So basically the California 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that the Constitution guarantees an individual the right to lie, deceive and misrepresent. This being the case, I guess they should overturn all cases of perjury, fraud based on inaccurate or misrepresentation on job applications, medical/Medicare forms and credit applications and, of course, ponzi schemes. After all, these individuals were just enjoying their Constitutionally guaranteed right of lying and cheating for personal gain. Judging from the current status of politics and the court system, that seems about right.

    • Jay Allen

      Bob. Yes as long as their lying does not do physical or emotional harm to anyone else. There are laws that apply to your examples because they do harm others.

  • Bob

    You obviously never served in the armed services who sacrifice to guarantee legitimate free speech, and definitely are not a member of a family that has a loved one that paid the ultimate sacrifice to earn the right to make a claim of valor. I guess their pain is no more than the family of fallen solders that get harassed “In the name of free speech” by the Westboro Baptist Church. A lie is a lie. There is always a victim of a lie. The question you propose is “Who gets to decide who is a real victim worth protecting”. Legitimate free speech is the free expression of ideas, not a blatant license to lie for gain. Think about it.

  • Tex

    Being a 62 year old Vietnam Veteran, I’m totally in agreement with the justices decision. Free speech is part of our many constitutionall liberties that so many veterans have fought and died for.

  • Mike Burke

    Mr Alvarez doesn’t deserve the freedom that our true veterans paid for in blood and death. I think he should volunteer his labor for atleast 1 month in one of our VA Hospitals. Maybe in doing so, he would get to see what our true veterans live with daily. Mr. Alvarez doesn’t amount to much of a man or an American in my opinion.

  • Bob

    Why should lieng be against the law????????? Lets see…obama does it, nancy p does it, brown does it, the clintons and kennedys have done it there entire lives and lets not forget the govenator …guess this list could go on forever………………………..

  • TJ

    I am veteran of 10 years in the US Army. This is just a disgusting and insane decision, with zero concern, respect, or character to what the military is about. This is another slap in the face to those who currently serve, who have served and those who have EARNED these awards!! Once againt he 9th Circus out does itself!!

  • WASP

    More prisons more fines more jails less freedom… who cares. Laugh at these people and move on. Don’t force me to pay enormous sums of money to imprison them. The prison industrial complex is large enough already in this country and our freedoms have shrunk to the point where we are going to hide behind bushes looking for someone at a coffee shop who claims to be ex-miiltary to imprison. It’s got to stop and yes I AM an honorably discharged U.S. military veteran.

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