The First Amendment and False Statements about Military Service:
Stolen Valor or Stolen Freedom of Speech?
U.S. v. Alvarez
"Indeed, the outrage and contempt expressed for [Alvarez's] lies can serve to reawaken and reinforce the public's respect for the Medal, its recipients, and its high purpose." From the Supreme Court's plurality opinion.
On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in United States v. Alvarez. A majority of the Court concluded that the Stolen Valor Act violated the First Amendment and was, therefore, unconstitutional.
The plurality opinion, concluded that: "Congress drafted the Stolen Valor Act too broadly, attempting to limit speech that could cause no harm. Criminal punishment for such speech is improper." The plurality added that "the sweeping quite unprecedented reach of the statute puts it in conflict with the First Amendment."
The Act's regulations on speech – based on the content of the speech – could not meet the exacting requirements for protection under the First Amendment. The First Amendment, generally, does not allow the government to restrict the message, ideas, subject matter, or content of expression.
The plurality noted that if the Court upheld the Stolen Valor Act's restrictions against false speech, it would be an endorsement of government authority to compile a potentially unlimited list of subjects that, if lied about, would be punishable by law. In essence, this could give the government broad and unprecedented censorship powers.
The plurality concluded that even though the Government has a compelling interest in protecting the Medal of Honor, the restrictions in the Stolen Valor Act are not "actually necessary" to achieve that protection.