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The Supreme Court's rejection of the Stolen Valor Act means only one thing, say those who want to punish people who falsely claim military medals: Round two.
"We lost a battle but we haven't lost the war," Doug Sterner of Virginia, one of the prime movers behind the 2006 act, said Thursday.
In a 6-3 decision released Thursday, the high court said the act is unconstitutional because it makes false speech about military valor illegal whether or not there is any harm done. It suggested a "more finely tailored statute" might pass constitutional muster.
The case stemmed from Californian Xavier Alvarez's false claim to be an ex-Marine and Medal of Honor winner during a water board meeting. He was prosecuted, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law was unconstitutional.
"Permitting the government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense, whether shouted from the rooftops or made in a barely audible whisper, would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable," the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy said.
Several times, the court notes that scorn for liars in public forums, such as the Internet and a public database, might better serve to prevent false claims.
"Only a weak society needs government protection or intervention before it pursues its resolve to preserve the truth," the opinion said. "Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah's 3rd Congressional District, who was duped last year into pinning a Purple Heart on a Korean War vet who didn't earn the medal, said the high court's endorsement of a public database is encouraging.
He hosted a congressional hearing in February on the topic and is pressing a reluctant Pentagon to create such a database.
"The truth is the best medicine, and if we can expose the truth, we can probably solve the problem," Chaffetz said.
Sterner created The Military Times Hall of Valor, a searchable database of valor award citations, which nonetheless is incomplete without government cooperation.
Hank Holzer, a former constitutional lawyer and author of a book decrying stolen valor, said the Stolen Valor Act was written poorly from the start and set back the movement to put a stop to posers.
"A lot of expectations have been wasted," he said from Colorado Thursday. "There have been a lot of prosecutions under Stolen Valor Act and they're all in the toilet. It's a shame."
A new Stolen Valor Act is already in the works. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., wrote the Stolen Valor Act of 2011 with a specific provision that the lie be punishable if it is used to procure a physical item.
In both Utah cases of stolen valor in the past year, the veterans appeared to be seeking glory more than goods.
• Myron Brown, 86, of Provo, presented fraudulent documents awarding him the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart, and had Chaffetz pin the awards on him. Brown had not earned those medals, Chaffetz later learned.
• Dave Groves, 67, of West Jordan, was honored at a VA luncheon as a Vietnam War prisoner of war and previously was shown wearing medals and the uniform of a Green Beret. Army records showed he served during the war but never left U.S. soil.