Breaking down the Stolen Valor Act ruling
Bottom lineThe Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional, striking down a law that could punish all those falsely claiming to have earned military honors with fines or jail time.
TakeawayIn ruling against the law, the court left open the possibility of “a more finely tuned statute” that might be able to punish those whose false statements result in specific harm to another party.
What they saidA selection of noteworthy passages from the plurality opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, and the dissenting opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito.
“… the Act’s breadth of coverage could be diminished or eliminated by a more finely tailored statute, for example, a statute that requires a showing that the false statement caused specific harm or is focused on lies more likely to be harmful or on contexts where such lies are likely to cause harm.”
“The statute seeks to control and suppress all false statements on this one subject in almost limitless times and settings. And it does so entirely without regard to whether the lie was made for the purpose of material gain.”
“But much damage is caused, both to real award recipients and to the system of military honors, by false statements that are not linked to any financial or other tangible reward.”
“Sworn testimony is quite distinct from lies not spoken under oath and simply intended to puff up oneself.”
“The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true. This is the ordinary course in a free society.”
“Because a sufficiently comprehensive database [of military awards] is not practicable, lies about military awards cannot be remedied by what the plurality calls ‘counterspeech.’”