H.R. 258: Stolen Valor Act of 2013

H.R. 258

Stolen Valor Act of 2013

Sponsor
Rep. Joe Heck

Date
May 20, 2013 (113th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Monday, May 20, 2013, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 258, the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, under a suspension of the rules. The bill was introduced on March 14, 2013 by Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, which held a mark-up and reported the bill by voice vote.

Bill Summary

H.R. 258 amends the federal criminal code (18 U.S.C. §704) to subject anyone who fraudulently claims to be a recipient of certain military honors, with intent to “obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit,” to a fine, imprisonment of not more than one year, or both.  The bill also adds “combat badges” to the list of protected military honors and removes the term "wears".

Background

In 2006, Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-437), which included a provision making it illegal to falsely represent oneself as having been awarded a military decoration or medal. 

In 2012, the Supreme Court held in United States v. Alvarez that the Act was unconstitutional as it violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment.  The case involved a California man who had falsely claimed that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor and was convicted of violating the Stolen Valor Act.  In a 6-3 decision, Justice Kennedy wrote for a plurality that the Act violated a strict scrutiny test, as it was not narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest, nor was it done in the least restrictive means possible.[1]  However, only four Justices joined in Justice Kennedy’s opinion.  Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Kagan, wrote in a concurrence that false statements of fact only had to pass an intermediate scrutiny test.  The Act still failed this test, however, because the Government could not show that it would apply to situations that would cause real harm.  In his concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote, “The Government has provided no convincing explana­tion as to why a more finely tailored statute would not work…such a statute could significantly reduce the threat of First Amendment harm while permit­ting the statute to achieve its important protective objec­tive.”[2]

By applying only to fraudulent claims with intent to tangibly benefit, H.R. 258 more narrowly tailors the law to apply to cases that cause real harm.  In this way, H.R. 258 takes the suggestions contained in the Court’s opinions and incorporates them into the law, making it more likely to survive constitutional scrutiny.

The House passed similar legislation in the 112th Congress on September 13, 2012 by a vote of 410-3 (Roll no. 575).



[1] See United States v. Alvarez, 567 U.S. ___ (2012) at 14-15 (plurality opinion)

[2] Id. at 10(Breyer, J., concurring)

Cost

CBO estimates that H.R. 258, “would have no significant cost to the federal government. Enacting the bill could affect direct spending and revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures apply. However, CBO estimates that any effects would be insignificant for each year.”