The thing that gets us about the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Alvarez — the ruling in which it declared unconstitutional the federal law known as the Stolen Valor Act — is not the question of whether the law is or is not a violation of the First Amendment. The court majority suggests that it is, because it outlaws speech that might be described merely as boastful and, in any event, that Congress mayn’t abridge. The minority, comprising Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, says, in a dissent, that it isn’t. Rather it’s just about protecting our country’s system of military honors.
Either way, the thing that gets us about this case is what the court describes as the “epidemic” false claims that has sprung up in the current war. It involves an astonishing number of wannabe heroes. Justice Alito, writing for the dissenters, reports that an “investigation of the 333 people listed in the online edition of Who’s Who as having received a top military award revealed that fully a third of the claims could not be substantiated.” He adds that when the Library of Congress “compiled oral histories for its Veterans History Project, 24 of the 49 individuals who identified themselves as Medal of Honor recipients had not actually received that award.”
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