Center for Strategic Communication

Medal of Honor — U.S. Army version. Photo: Wikipedia

It’s perfectly legal to lie about being a military hero, the Supreme Court said Thursday.
The justices ruled (.pdf) 6-3 that a 2006 law making it a federal criminal offense to lie about being decorated for military service was unconstitutional.

The Stolen Valor Act makes it unlawful for someone to falsely represent, verbally or in writing, that they were “awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States.” The measure imposes penalties of up to a year in prison.

The case before the justices surrounds a 2010 federal appeals court decision declaring the law an unconstitutional breach (.pdf) of the First Amendment, a decision the justices upheld.

“Fundamental constitutional principles require that laws enacted to honor the brave must be consistent with the precepts of the Constitution for which they fought,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, concurred with Kennedy’s opinion that the Stolen Valor Act was unconstitutional.

Breyer wrote the Stolen Valor Act was not akin to laws against fraud, defamation, perjury, impersonation and even trademark infringement, all of which are likely to produce “tangible harm to others.”