I am the recipient of the Joint Services Commendation Medal, which was awarded to me near the end of my military career 40 years ago. It is not a grand medal in the hierarchy of such things, but it is not the least distinguished either. I don’t remember the word “valor” in the citation, but I do recall, perhaps, an “above and beyond.” I mention this because last Thursday, in a decision that got buried under the reaction to its health care ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the federal “Stolen Valor Act,” which had made it a crime to falsely claim you had won a military medal. I never have heard of anyone claiming to have won the JCSM, to be sure; the Supreme Court’s decision concerned a man named Xavier Alvarez, who presented himself as a Medal of Honor winner at a meeting of California’s Three Valleys Municipal Water District Board. He also said he had played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and had been married to a Mexican starlet.
In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that Mr. Alvarez’ claims were contemptible but not unconstitutional. Justices Clarence Scalito dissented, saying that lying was not protected by the First Amendment. Clearly they haven’t been paying attention to the current political scene, where the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact.com has a position on its “Truth-O-Meter” called “Pants on Fire.”
Perjury is a crime. Libel is a crime. Slander is a crime. But braggadocio, however contemptible? Congress has more important matters to address.