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US Supreme Court rules on Stolen Valor Act case

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While the health care decision was the ruling most people were waiting to hear, the justices also issued decisions in two other cases Thursday. The nation’s highest court found the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional.

The justices released United States v. Alvarez, 11-210, regarding the Stolen Valor Act, finding it infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment. A direct causal link between the restriction imposed and the injury to be prevented hasn’t been shown in this case, the court ruled.

The case involves Xavier Alvarez, who lied when telling people he held the Congressional Medal of Honor. His lie violates the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 and he was indicted under the Act in California. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held the Act was invalid under the First Amendment. This year, after certiorari was granted, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in an unrelated case found the Act to be constitutional.

“Statutes suppressing or restricting speech must be judged by the sometimes inconvenient principles of the First Amendment. By this measure, the statutory provisions under which respondent was convicted must be held invalid, and his conviction must be set aside,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, who delivered the court opinion.

“Were the Court to hold that the interest in truthful discourse alone is sufficient to sustain a ban on speech, absent any evidence that the speech was used to gain a material advantage, it would give government a broad censorial power unprecedented in this Court’s cases or in our constitutional tradition. The mere potential for the exercise of that power casts a chill, a chill the First Amendment cannot permit if free speech, thought, and discourse are to remain a foundation of our freedom.”

Justice Stephen Breyer in his concurring opinion, which Justice Elena Kagan joined, noted that Congress may be able to finely tailor the statute.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent.

“By holding that the First Amendment nevertheless shields these lies, the Court breaks sharply from a long line of cases recognizing that the right to free speech does not protect false factual statements that inflict real harm and serve no legitimate interest. I would adhere to that principle and would thus uphold the constitutionality of this valuable law,” Alito wrote in his dissent.

The Supreme Court also dismissed First American Financial Corp. v. Edwards, 10-708, which dealt with certain lawsuits under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

 

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