Supreme Court Majority Opinion
Fields is being tried for violating the Stolen Valor Act of 2006. Abel Fields spoke at a public safety meeting, claiming due to his military experience, Fields could speak with authority about the proper course of action regarding the city’s public safety issues. Fields stated that he had served in the military for eight years and had received a Purple Heart, a prestigious medal awarded to those wounded, due to an act of bravery in combat. Fields’ claims were discovered false as he had never served in the military and had never received a Purple Heart.
Fields were found guilty in his first trial regarding his violation of the Stolen Valor Act and charged with a monetary fine. Fields appealed the court’s decision in the Court of Appeals, where his charge was overturned and he was found not guilty. This case has now been brought in front of the Supreme Court by the United States government, which believes the case should be reviewed once more. Abel Fields has argued that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional, violating his right to free speech as protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court will be regarding other similar rulings on other cases to explain the final decision.
There have been many cases regarding the extents of the First Amendment, meaning what the courts acknowledge as the parameters of acceptable free speech. One such case regarding free speech, New York Times Co. V Sullivan (1964), a newspaper was sued by a public official. The official claimed the newspaper had printed defamatory statements about their police department. It was ruled by the court in a landmark case about free speech that public officials are not victims of libel unless the speaker acted with malice. Without the intentions of malice, meaning without the purpose of making false statements, false speech is not punishable.
In a case regarding symbolic speech, Texas v. Johnson (1989), Gregory Johnson was convicted of burning an American flag. Johnson was convicted under a Texas state law that made it illegal to burn an American flag. This restriction of symbolic speech was ruled to be an infringement of the First Constitutional Amendment, marking the Texas law invalid. The ruling was that Johnson’s constitutional right to free speech had been violated.
With the precedents of the aforementioned, free speech-related cases, we have reason to believe the Stolen Valor Act sets a threatening precedent and could allow the government to wrongly limit future speech in the future. Free speech, if considered false yet not directly harmful, may still be punished, but to what end? Currently, intentionally damaging false speech, like yelling “Fire in a crowded theater when there is none, is not protected by the First Amendment. Intentional and damaging false speech like this is punished. Identifiably, damaging false speech can be punished, yet the Stolen Valor Act’s broad rules on what U.S citizens are legally allowed to say is too much of an impingement on the First Amendment. With this consensus, the Court finds the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional and Fields only invoking his legal right to free speech.