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United States v. Alvarez

Citation. 567 U.S. 709, 132 S.Ct. 2537, 183 L.Ed.2d 574 (2012).
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Citation. 567 U.S. 709, 132 S.Ct. 2537, 183 L.Ed.2d 574 (2012).

Brief Fact Summary.

Defendant was indicted under the Stolen Valor Act. He argued in his defense that the act was invalid under First Amendment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Where false claims are made to effect a fraud or secure moneys or other valuable considerations, it is well established that the government may restrict speech without affronting the First Amendment.


At his first public meeting as a member of the Three Valley Water District Board in Claremont, California, Defendant lied when he said he had received the Congressional Medal of Honor. All records indicate the statements were a pathetic attempt to gain respect. The statements were not made to secure employment, financial benefits, or admission privileges reserved for those who had earned the medal. Defendant was incited under the Stolen Valor Act. In defense, he argued that the law was invalid under the First Amendment.


Whether the Stolen Valor Act is constitutional under the First Amendment.


No. The Stolen Valor Act is constitutional under the First Amendment.


Justice Alito

Congress responded to an epidemic of false claims about military decorations. The statute presents no threat to the freedom of speech. By holding that the First Amendment nevertheless shield these lies, the Court breaks from a long line of cases recognizing that the right to free speech does not protect false factual statements that inflict real harm and serve no legitimate interest.


Justice Breyer

I agree the Stolen Valor Act violates the First Amendment. But I base this conclusion upon the fact that the government can achieve its objectives in less restrictive means because the statute lacks any sort of limiting features. The government has provided no explanation as to why a more finely tailored statute would not work. It consequently fails intermediate scrutiny and so violates the First Amendment.


As our law and tradition show, there are instances in which the falsity of speech bears upon whether it is protected. But it also rejects the notion that false speech should be in a general category that is presumptively unprotected.

Here, the Stolen Valor Act by its plain terms applies to a false statement made at any time, in any place, to any person. The sweeping, quite unprecedented reach of the statute puts in conflict with the First Amendment. The statute seeks to control and suppress all false statements on this one subject in almost limitless times and settings. And it does so entirely without regard to whether the lie was made for the purpose of material gain. This has the potential of chilling the First Amendment.

Additionally, Plaintiff points to no evidence to support its claim that the public’s general perception of military awards is diluted by false claims. There is a lack of causal link between Plaintiff’s stated interest and the Act showing the Act is not actually necessary to achieve the stated interest. It also fails because it is not the least restrictive means, i.e. the government could instead utilize its database of military awardees. Judgement affirmed.

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