Friday, February 24, 2012
YOU HAVE A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO LIE
This Bea is Bell, wondering if the name Xavier Alvarez is familiar? If not let me enlighten you. He is a defendant in a case before the Supreme Court (US vs. Alvarez). Mr. Alvarez was an elected official of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in Pomona, California. While attending one of their meetings he informed its members that he was a wounded veteran and that he had received The Congressional Medal of Honor. Some other medal recipients checked the Internet and found out that what Mr. Alvarez had claimed turned out to be a big lie. He had never even served in the armed forces.
As a result of that falsehood he was convicted of violating the 2006 Stolen Valor Act which prohibits lying about military honors and records. His lawyer appealed the conviction on the grounds of the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech. As a result the California District Court of Appeals struck down the verdict and it eventually reached the United States Supreme Court.
Now here’s the question. Do people have a Constitutional First Amendment right to lie? Lord, I should hope not! I can just see my granddaughter declaring her right of free speech whenever she got caught in a lie. Not that it would save her from any punishment, but I'm sure that she would think that it was well worth the effort.
From what I understand about this whole thing is that the problem the Supreme Court faces in making its decision is this: is a narrow law designed to prosecute specific lies constitutional? If that's the case, I think that "lying laws" should be directed at some of the biggest liars of all—Congress—no, make that politicians in general.
Imagine if the average citizen could "refresh" the memories of Presidents, Senators, Representatives, governors—all politicians—with evidence of their lies and have them convicted for those lies. I admit that everyone lies sometimes, but lies designed to deliberately conceal wrongful acts, immoral behavior and threats to national security all would be violations of the public trust and would therefore deserve convictions.
It seems that not all of the Supreme Court justices agree with the present Stolen Valor Act. Justice Sotomayor stated that just offending others by itself is not enough to justify limiting speech.
"So outside of the emotional reaction where's the harm?” she asked.
She seemed the least willing to accept the Obama administration's defense of the law. The argument is that the value of the highest award or any others is diminished because some people lie about having received them. I have to admit that choosing some lies over others sounds like a slippery slope to me.
So I guess I have to ask, do we make a federal case out of lying? Why make some lies against the law and not others? I don't envy the Supreme Court in deciding this case. I bet all of those lying politicians are glad that there haven’t been any "no-lying laws" directed at them.Too bad, I enjoy musing on that possibility, and that's no lie.