JLPP media law symposium discusses Stolen Valor Act
By Lindsey Tercilla
The protection of false factual statements under the First Amendment in the case of United Sates v. Alvarez was the topic of a panel discussion at the Journal of Law and Public Policy’s Media Law Symposium on March 14 in the Martin H. Levin Advocacy Center.
In 2012, the United States Supreme Court overturned the Stolen Valor Act, which attempted to criminalize lying about receiving a military medal.
A new version of the act was passed in September that created penalties for individuals who lied about receiving military medals and profited from their deception.
Panelists included UF Law Professor Lyrissa Lidsky; First Amendment and media law attorney Craig D. Feiser, attorney Kristen Rasmussen, who authored the amicus brief presented to the U.S. Supreme Court for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; and Col. Michael L. Smidt, staff judge advocate of U.S. Special Operations Command.
Professor Lidsky lead the discussion by posing the question: “Does the Alvarez case protect lies?”
When making the decision, the Justices asked themselves two questions, Lidsky said. The first was if the speech was valuable, and the second was did the speech cause harm? Six of the justices said they started with the harm question, she said.
“How you come out on this case depends on which one you ask first,” Lidsky said. “These lies muddy the message of military medals, and that pollutes public disclosure.”
While these lies dilute the value of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the majority decided that the Stolen Valor Act violated the First Amendment by prohibiting people from making false statements.
Craig D. Feiser spoke about the history of false factual statements with regards to media law.
Kristen Rasmussen expressed the important not-so-obvious interests of the news media in the Alvarez case. This included a discussion of what animated the Reporters Committee’s decision to get involved in the case via an amicus effort.
This symposium was sponsored by the Florida Free Speech Forum and the American Bar Association Law Student Division at UF Law.