The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a federal law making it a crime to lie about receiving the Medal of Honor and other prized military awards, with justices branding the false claim "contemptible" but nonetheless protected by the First Amendment.
Here in the east, Michael Hamilton, 69, was released from prison recently after being sentenced in September to 16 months in prison after being found guilty of embezzling $30,000 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, making false official statements, and wearing a uniform and medals he did not receive.
The court voted 6-3 in favor of Xavier Alvarez, a former local elected official in California who falsely said he was a decorated war veteran and had pleaded guilty to violating the 2006 law, known as the Stolen Valor Act. The law, enacted when the U.S. was at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, was aimed at people making phony claims of heroism in battle.
The ruling, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, ordered that the conviction be thrown out.
"Though few might find respondent'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 Stolen Valor Act infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment," Kennedy said.
Alvarez's original federal public defender, Brianna Fuller, said in an email that they were pleased with the decision. While we have utmost respect for our men and women in uniform, we've always believed that we honor them best by protecting the 'precepts of the Constitution for which they fought,' as Justice Kennedy said in this morning's opinion," Fuller said.