Conflict & Justice

Stolen Valor Act struck down by SCOTUS


A Purple Heart medal is shown on the uniform of U.S Army Lt. Colonel Alan Streeter after U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates presented the award for wounds he received in combat on May 30, 2011, during a ceremony on June 6, 2011, at Combat Outpost Andar in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. The Stolen Valor Act aims to stop people lying about having received military medals like the Purple Heart.


Jason Reed/Pool

The Stolen Valor Act, which would have made it illegal to lie about receiving military medals or honors, was overturned by SCOTUS Thursday in a move largely eclipsed by the court's Heath care decision, the Hill reported

The law, which was passed by Congress under President George W. Bush, was struck down 6-3 because it violated free speech, ABC News reported

The government argued that lying about military honors could cause harm, a category of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment, according to ABC News. 

More from GlobalPost: Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional?

"False claims make the public skeptical of all claims to have received awards, and they inhibit the government's efforts to ensure that the armed services and the public perceive awards as going only to the most deserving few," the US argued in the "United States v. Xavier Alvarez" case, which convicted former Californian politician Alvarez under the Stolen Valor law in 2006. 

Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas dissented, and Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, CNN reported.  

"The nation well knows that one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace," Justice Kennedy said. "Though few might find (Alvarez'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."

In his dissent, Alito described the hardship that "stealing valor" brings upon those who have truly won awards, MSNBC reported

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“Legitimate award recipients and their families have expressed the harm they endure when an imposter takes credit for heroic actions that he never performed," wrote Alito. "One Medal of Honor recipient described the feeling as a ‘slap in the face of veterans who have paid the price and earned their medals.’”

Kennedy, however, allowed for the possibility that Congress could rewrite the law "to achieve the government's objective in less burdensome ways," USA Today reported

The federal Stolen Valor Act was put in place to "protect the reputation" of military decorations, according to CNN. Similar laws date back to 1948. 

[View the story "'Stolen Valor' law overturned by SCOTUS" on Storify]