Attorneys for the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] on Thursday asked the US Supreme Court [official website] to uphold a controversial law that makes it illegal to falsely claim to be a decorated military veteran. The Stolen Valor Act [text, PDF], enacted in 2005, makes it a federal crime for an individual to "falsely represent himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item[.]" Violations are subject to fines and up to a year in jail.
The law has been challenged in federal courts in Colorado and California. The appeal to the Supreme Court comes in the case of US v. Alvarez [materials], in which the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] declared the law unconstitutional [JURIST report] last August. Although the panel conceded that Congress's intentions were "praiseworthy," it found that the law required courts to "extend inapposite case law to create an unprecedented exception to First Amendment guarantees" and was "not narrowly drawn" enough to survive First Amendment scrutiny. Alvarez was arrested after he gave a speech before the Three Valley Water District board of directors in California, to which he had recently been admitted, in which he claimed to be a retired marine and the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. In Colorado, the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] awaits arguments in the case of US v. Strandlof [ACLU materials]. Rick Strandlof was arrested in 2009 after he founded a veterans' club in Colorado Springs and claimed to have been awarded the purple heart.