February 29, 2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Free Speech (Coda)

A couple of weeks ago I talked about US v. Alvarez, in which the Supreme Court is going to determine whether the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime to falsely claim to have been awarded various military honors, violates the First Amendment. The Court heard oral argument in the case last week and I think it really highlights the principle/practical distinction I was discussing in those posts.

In particular, the Court hammers Alvarez’s counsel pretty hard looking for a principled reason why the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech provides protection to knowing false statements of fact. To be honest, I don’t think he came up with a satisfactory answer. Instead, the biggest problem with the Act appears to be its scope and how it is applied. So, hey, maybe I was right about emphasizing the practical after all.

I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It makes my skin crawl when a prosecutor says, with regards to some broadly worded law impacting speech, “don’t worry, we won’t interpret it to reach that kind of speech.” The Government’s tried that line in other First Amendment cases and it was rightly rejected. Hopefully, they’ll rejected this time, too.

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