Updated at 4:15 pm ET The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a federal law called the Stolen Valor Act which prohibits a person from falsely claiming that he has been awarded a military honor.
The case involved Xavier Alvarez who was an elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board in Pomona, California.
In 2007 Alvarez said at a public water district board meeting that he was a retired Marine, had been “wounded many times,” and had been “awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor” in 1987.
In fact, he never served in the United States armed forces.
Alvarez pleaded guilty to violating the Stolen Valor Act, but claimed that his false statements were protected by the First Amendment right of free speech.
The majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true. This is the ordinary course in a free society.”
Kennedy quoted from the famous dissent by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the 1919 Abrams decision: “The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.”
Kennedy said, "Some false statements are inevitable if there is to be an open and vigorous expression of views in public and private conversation, expression the First Amendment seeks to guarantee."
Writing a dissent for himself, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Samuel Alito said a long line of prior court decisions recognized “that the right to free speech does not protect false factual statements that inflict real harm and serve no legitimate interest.”
Alito said, “Legitimate award recipients and their families have expressed the harm they endure when an imposter takes credit for heroic actions that he never performed. One Medal of Honor recipient described the feeling as a ‘slap in the face of veterans who have paid the price and earned their medals.’”
Alito said diluting the effect of military awards “harms the military by hampering its efforts to foster morale and esprit de corps.”