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Looking Forward to Spring: Groundhogs and Stolen Valor

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 02, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Happy Groundhog Day, SCOTUS-watchers. America's seasonal oracle, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow this morning, according to The Washington Post.

You can forget that balmy weather outside, because "winter" is here for six more weeks. (Our calendar indicated that winter was here until March anyway. Perhaps Phil's shadow is predicative of the winter in our hearts rather than the vernal equinox?)

The Supreme Court is out of justice's shadow for its winter recess, so today we're going to spring forward from 2/2 to 2/22, when the Nine will hear Stolen Valor Act arguments.

The Stolen Valor case, U.S. v. Alvarez, examines whether the 2005 Stolen Valor Act violates First Amendment protections. The case comes to the Court from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the law was unconstitutional.

Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski claims that under the reasoning for the Act, "There would be no constitutional bar to criminalizing lying about one's height, weight, age, or financial status on or Facebook, or falsely representing to one's mother that one does not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, is a virgin, or has not exceeded the speed limit while driving on the freeway."

But not that everyone feels that way.

Last week, the Tenth Circuit took a different view of the Stolen Valor Act, finding that the Act does not "chill or impinge upon protected speech" because "false statements of fact do not enjoy constitutional protection, except to the extent necessary to protect more valuable speech."

So which school of thought will the Supreme Court adopt?

Statistically, we would bet on the Tenth Circuit since the Court has a habit of reversing the Ninth Circuit, but SCOTUSblog observes that the Supreme Court "has made conflicting comments over the years on whether a false statement, by itself, lacks constitutional protection." Translation: It's anyone's guess.

We're all for embarrassing/shunning people who lie about military service; we just uncomfortable with a federal statute criminalizing "white lies." (We do, however, like this website that outs alleged military fakers. Well done, gentlemen.)

What's your stance on the Stolen Valor Act? Legislate it, or let it go?

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