On February 22, the U.S. Supreme Court held a hearing on the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which makes it a federal crime to falsely represent oneself to have been awarded a military medal or ribbon. The Freedom to Read Foundation filed an amicus curiae
brief in this case, asking the Court to overturn the Act on the grounds that the law creates a new category of unprotected speech that is contrary to long-standing legal precedents holding that the First Amendment protects non-fraudulent, non-defamatory false speech.
Xavier Alvarez was indicted in 2007 after he falsely told an audience, among several other lies, that he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alvarez pleaded guilty on the condition that he be allowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds. In August 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Alvarez’s conviction and found the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional in a 2–1 decision. (Notably, in U.S. v. Hinkston, a similar case in Colorado, the Tenth Circuit in 2011 upheld the Stolen Valor Act in a 2–1 ruling.)
FTRF’s amicus brief, filed with other members of the Media Coalition, argues that, unlike in cases of defamation and fraud, there is no exception to the First Amendment for a government-imposed "test of truth,” and that enforcement of such a test would chill the speech of law-abiding media and other entities that distribute information. Exaggerations or even mistakes are not exempted from the Stolen Valor Act.
Other organizations filing briefs in support of Mr. Alvarez include the ACLU, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. Those filing amicus briefs in support of the government include the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and attorneys general of 20 states.
All the briefs in the case, along with the transcript of the oral argument, can be found at www.mediacoalition.org.