The Gross National Debt

Saturday, June 30, 2012

'Bout dat other decision


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I confess here to some ambivalence.

SCOTUS also ruled on Thursday lying is OK, within some limits. I do not refer to the health care decision. Rather, SCOTUS ruled that a law making it a crime to lie about your past is illegal, sort of.
Picture of a confirmed liar

The overturned law was created in the wake of a man who claimed to have received the Medal of Honor, the highest award this nation can give a person in the military. He was later found to be a liar and fired.

Congress then passed a law making it illegal to make such a claim.

The decision was 6-3. "KENNEDY, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GINSBURG and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which KAGAN, J., joined. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA and THOMAS, JJ., joined." re: the official SCOTUS decision. United States v. Alvarez

A bit I find HILARIOUS is the opening sentence of the majority decision, "Lying was his habit."

This man, Xavier Alvarez (at right), has been formally, officially and without question branded forever as purveyor of falsehood. This is now as much of a fact as anything can be in this world.

The court carved out a narrow exception for this kind of lying.

"These quotations all derive from cases discussing defamation, fraud, or some other legally cognizable harm associated with a false statement, such as an invasion of privacy or the costs of vexatious litigation. See Brief for United States 18–19. In those decisions the falsity ofthe speech at issue was not irrelevant to our analysis, but neither was it determinative. The Court has never endorsed the categorical rule the Government advances: thatfalse statements receive no First Amendment protection.Our prior decisions have not confronted a measure, likethe Stolen Valor Act, that targets falsity and nothing more."

The Court's decision repeatedly references Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, a precedent setting case in which Jerry Falwell sued Larry Flynt and Hustler Magazine over cartoons that portrayed Falwell as an idiot.

And while I am not a SCOTUS groupie, I'll admit to never recalling the Court including classic literature as it does here: "Permitting the government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense, whether shouted from the rooftops or made in a barely audible whisper, would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about whichfalse statements are punishable. That governmental power has no clear limiting principle. Our constitutional tradition stands against the idea that we need Oceania’s Ministry of Truth. See G. Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) (Centennial ed. 2003)."

Alito, in writing for the dissent, said, "These lies, Congress reasonably concluded, were undermining our country’s system of military honors and inflicting real harm on actual medal recipients and their families.... By holding that the First Amendment nevertheless shields these lies, the Court breaks sharply from a long line of cases recognizing that the right to free speech does not protect false factual statements that inflict real harm and serve no legitimate interest. I would adhere to that principle and would thus uphold the constitutionality of this valuable law."

He's got a point. "In many instances, the harm is tangible in nature: Individuals often falsely represent themselves as award recipients in order to obtain financial or other material rewards, such as lucrative contracts and government benefits."

As for me? I dunno. I can see merit on both sides.

There are cases when lying is appropriate (and before the Christians decide to jump my case, be sure you have read the Bible). If not appropriate, there certainly are cases where telling the truth is inadvisable. And on that matter, the Constitution's 5th Amendment supports me.

http://porkbrainsandmilkgravy.blogspot.com/2012/03/lie-to-me.html

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