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SCOTUS Considers Free Speech: FCC Indecency, Stolen Valor Act

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 18, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Supreme Court will have a busy term with a new round of cases examining the boundaries of free speech rights. On Monday, the Supreme Court granted cert in U.S. v. Alvarez, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case that struck down the Stolen Valor Act.

Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act in 2005. Under the Act, it is a federal crime to lie about receiving military medals or decorations.

Xavier Alvarez, a "congenital liar," was the first person charged under the Act, reports Reuters. Alvarez was elected to a California water board after introducing himself as a retired Marine and Medal of Honor winner at a board meeting in 2007. Alvarez had never actually served in the military.

Last year, the Ninth Circuit held in Alvarez that the Stolen Valor Act was an unconstitutional limit on free speech.

In the opinion, the majority noted that holding otherwise could potentially criminalize everyday white lies. "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," the court wrote.

The issue before the Supreme Court is whether statements that a speaker knows are false are protected under the First Amendment.

But the Stolen Valor Act isn't the only free speech case before the Court. The Nine will also be considering whether Federal Communications Commission (FCC) indecency regulations violate First Amendment rights.

The Second Circuit previously ruled that the agency exceeded its authority in fining ABC and Fox for a bare backside and awards show cursing, respectively. FCC indecency penalties can be as much as $325,000 per violation, reports The Washington Post.

The Supreme Court has not yet set times for oral arguments for the Stolen Valor Act challenge or the FCC indecency appeal.

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