CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Tuesday, September 11, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 1775, the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority vote for approval. The bill was introduced on May 5, 2011, by Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, which held a markup and reported the bill by voice vote.
H.R. 1775 would amend the federal criminal code to subject whoever, with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently purports to be a recipient of certain military decorations to a fine or imprisonment of not more than one year, or both.
The bill would limit the application of this penalty to fraudulent claims related to only the Congressional Medal of Honor and those decorations or medals listed in title 18 U.S.C. 704. The bill would amend subsection (a) of 704 to remove the term “wears” and amends subsection (d) of 704 to add “combat badges” and a definition of such term to the list of decorations and medals. These changes would be made to ensure the constitutionality of the legislation.
According to CRS, the 2005 Stolen Valor Act (120 Stat. 3266-3267; P.L. 109-437) prohibited purchasing, attempting to purchase, soliciting for purchase, mailing, shipping, importing, exporting, producing blank certificates of receipt for, manufacturing, selling, attempting to sell, advertizing for sale, trading, bartering, or exchanging for anything of value any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the United States Armed Forces without authorization made pursuant to law, including the Purple Heart. The Stolen Valor Act also prohibited making false claims, written or verbal, about receiving military decorations. These acts were considered federal misdemeanors and carried fines and potential jail time.
The 2005 Stolen Valor Act came under scrutiny and was struck down by the 9th Circuit Court for First Amendment violations and was declared unconstitutional under the First Amendment by the Supreme Court on June 28, 2012. In a plurality opinion the Supreme Court found that the 2005 Stolen Valor Act violated the freedom of speech clause for punishing all false statements about military service wherever uttered. A plurality of four justices argued that only certain false statements, that would carry high risk of defined harm to others, are not protected and that false statements about military honors do not carry that risk. Two additional justices found in a concurrent opinion that the Act was too broad and carried too great a risk of suppressing speech that was protected under the First Amendment.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects that H.R. 1775 would apply to a relatively small number of offenders so any increase in costs for law enforcement, court proceedings, or prison operations would not be significant. Any such costs would be subject to the availability of appropriated funds.