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.
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.
The high court has in recent years rejected limits on speech. The justices struck down a federal ban on videos showing graphic violence against animals and rejected a state law intended to keep violent video games away from children. The court also turned aside the attempt by the father of a dead Marine to sue fundamentalist church members who staged a mocking protest at his son's funeral. In 1989, the court said the Constitution protects the burning of the American flag.