Stolen Valor Act deemed unconstitutional

U.S. Rep. John Salazar’s Stolen Valor Act, aimed at preventing people from fraudulently claiming to be war heroes, was declared unconstitutional Wednesday by an appellate panel in California.

That prompted Salazar, a Vietnam-era veteran, to predict the ruling will be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Salazar, a Democrat whose 3rd Congressional District covers most of the west and south sides of Colorado, carried the Stolen Valor Act in 2006, winning unanimous approval in the Senate after the measure passed the House.

The law forbids anyone from claiming an unearned military medal.

“I am confident that upon appeal to the Supreme Court (the appellate panel’s) misguided decision will be overturned,” Salazar said in a statement.

A panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Stolen Valor Act violated the free-speech rights of a Pomona, Calif., man who said at a public meeting in 2007 that he was a retired U.S. Marine who had been awarded the Medal of Honor. Xavier Alvarez pleaded guilty under the Stolen Valor Act on condition that he be allowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds.

The decision was the second blow in the space of a month for the Stolen Valor Act. Last month, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn in Denver declared the law unconstitutional.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Colorado filed a notice of appeal of that decision Aug. 12, but the Solicitor General’s Office of the Department of Justice will decide whether to pursue an appeal of Blackburn’s decision.

Blackburn rejected prosecution of Richard Glen Strandlof, who claimed to be Capt. Rick Duncan, a wounded Marine who had earned a Silver Star.

The Department of Justice is now without a solicitor general with the appointment of Elena Kagan to the high court.

In the California case, a 2-1 majority said there was no evidence that such lies harm anyone, and there is no compelling reason for the government to ban such lies.

The dissenting justice said false statements of fact are not entitled to First Amendment protection.


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