Julia K. Wood


The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 (the Act) makes it a crime to lie about having received a medal authorized by Congress for the military. In 2010, in United States v. Alvarez, the Ninth Circuit found the Act unconstitutional under the First Amendment, holding that false statements of fact, like other content-based restrictions on speech, are subject to strict scrutiny. The Act failed this test because, according to the court, it was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. The decision highlights the uncertainty of First Amendment protections for false speech. Though the Supreme Court has held that certain categories of false speech— such as fraud and defamation—are proscribable, it has not ruled directly on a case in which false speech had been barred without respect to context, intent, or harm. This Note argues that false speech should be presumptively protected by the First Amendment, with exceptions for certain classes of speech that result in concrete harm to individuals. Such protection would limit government control of speech, avoid chilling worthy speech, promote privacy and autonomy, and result in easier administration for courts.

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