The recently concluded U. S. Supreme Court term was nothing less than a barn-burner. Several of the courts' rulings from just this week will have profound consequences across many spheres of American life. Obviously, the decision garnering the greatest amount of news coverage related the health care act, but there were others deserving of more than passing mention.
The recently concluded U. S. Supreme Court term was nothing less than a barn-burner. Several of the courts’ rulings from just this week will have profound consequences across many spheres of American life. Obviously, the decision garnering the greatest amount of news coverage related the health care act, but there were others deserving of more than passing mention.
Of the also-ran cases deserving special consideration is the court’s 6-3 decision in the case of United States vs. Alvarez. The case involves the criminal conviction of Xavier Alvarez, a California water board member who falsely claimed to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Alvarez was prosecuted under the Stolen Valor Act. He pleaded guilty, but reserved the right to file an appeal. He received a sentence of three years probation, community service and a $5,000 fine.
In short, the court held that Alvarez’s actions were indeed repugnant and disrespectful on a deep level, but the Stolen Valor Act was written so broadly as to run afoul of the Constitution.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy provides a key insight to the court’s rationale: “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 First Amendment) protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace.”
As much as we might vociferously condemn Alvarez’s actions, we must recognize his right to behave in a horrendously dishonorable manner. What makes radical America difficult to stomach also gives us a freedom enjoyed more fully than anywhere else.
Yet again, we have to confront that this is the price of freedom. Klansmen, Black Panthers, John Birch members, Earth First acolytes, flag burners and all other social outliers have an express right to have their say. Nazis can claim the Aryan race is superior to all others all day long. Allowing them their delusion does not imply consent.
Supporters of the Stolen Valor Act argue that the intent of the law is inherently different. It is not. While people like Alvarez do disservice to our military heroes, his lies are not characteristically dissimilar to protected hate speech.
Fang Wong, national commander of the 2.4 million member American Legion, expressed hope that elements of the law could be retooled in a sufficiently narrow form to withstand legal challenge.
“We felt good about portions of the decision which suggests a more narrowly tailored bill which incorporates traditional fraud elements would be upheld,” Wong said.
Kennedy put the necessity of the ruling in proper perspective by stating that SVA was so broad as to criminalize even private speech, even covering, “… personal whispered conversations within a home.”
The prospect of being convicted for statements in such a scenario (i.e. within one’s own home) is anathema to the Constitution on multiple frontiers.
Kennedy’s plurality opinion was signed by Chief Justice John Roberts as well as Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Steven Bryer authored a concurring judgment and was joined by Justice Elena Kagan.
Justice Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. The three argued that SVA poses no threat to free speech. Rather, they contend it punishes lies that are “undermining our country’s system of military honors and inflicting real harm on actual medal recipients and their families.”
No one argues that violators of SVA are engaged in a hurtful and disrespectful enterprise. As history well-attests, such acts are Constitutionally permissible and quite common. Accordingly, those wishing to preserve the interests of our heroes will need a new approach.