Dinner parties and obituaries could become a lot less interesting if the Supreme Court votes to uphold a law which makes it a federal offense to lie about having received military honors.
At the center of a case presented to the Court today is Xavier Alvarez, a man who, following his election to a municipal water board in California, introduced himself at a public meeting as "a retired marine of 25 years" (false) and a Medal of Honor recipient (super false).
Lying was nothing new to Alvarez. According to a brief from his lawyer, Alvarez had previously also claimed to be an engineer, a former professional hockey player with the Detroit Red Wings, the secret husband of a Mexican starlet "whose appearance in public caused paparazzi to swoon," and the person charged with the rescue of the American ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis.
After his claims of being a Medal of Honor recipient were exposed as false, Alvarez was publicly ridiculed, shamed out of office and, oh yeah, indicted by the FBI for committing a federal offense.
His crime? Violating the awesomely-named Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which exists "to protect the reputation and meaning" of military honors. (The act does not address instances of fraud, in which an individual receives financial gain or other benefits based on false claims of military service.)
Alvarez was sentenced to three years of probation, 416 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. A federal appeals court threw out the conviction, on the grounds that it violated Alvarez's right to free speech. Now the issue has come before the Supreme Court.
Justice Antonin Scalia spoke out, today, in favor of the law, stating:
"When Congress passed this legislation, I assume it did so because it thought that the value of the awards that these courageous members of the armed forces were receiving was being demeaned and diminished."
Justice Sonia Sotomayor countered that, while Alvarez is kind of a jerk for lying, she found mere personal offense insufficient to justify an encroachment upon free speech.
"…Outside of the emotional reaction, where's the harm? And I'm not minimizing it. I, too, take offense when people make these kinds of claims, but I take offense when someone I'm dating makes a claim that's not true."
Ooh, girl. Pour yourself a glass of Pinot and tell me all about it.
[Image via Getty]