It would seem that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled that lying is a constitutional right. I say “seem” because I am not a legal expert and will gladly accept correction from those of you who might be. However, here are the facts of the case as extracted from an AP report:
A 3-year-old federal law that makes it a crime to falsely claim to have received a medal from the U.S. military is unconstitutional, an appeals court panel in California ruled Tuesday.
The decision involves the case of Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, Calif., a water district board member who said at a public meeting in 2007 that he was a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration…..
A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with him in a 2-1 decision Tuesday, agreeing that the law was a violation of his free-speech rights. The majority said there’s no evidence that such lies harm anybody, and there’s no compelling reason for the government to ban such lies.
The dissenting justice insisted that the majority refused to follow clear Supreme Court precedent that false statements of fact are not entitled to First Amendment protection…..
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said it was deciding whether to appeal Tuesday’s ruling. The full AP report is here: Is Lying a Right?
You have the Right to Lie! So based on my reading, two of the three judges have ruled that lying is protected by the Constitution. That is, lying is a Constitutional right! Hmm…. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that law must comport with human reason:
A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. (CCC 1902 quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 93, 3, ad 2)
Lying does not accord with right reason hence there can be no law that enshrines it as a right or in any way commends it.
Key Concern: Now let me say I do not therefore think the Government should punish every lie or even ban every lie according to kind and number. If so most of us would be jailbirds. It may well be argued, as the court did, that the lie in question in Mr. Alvarez’s case does not rise to a prosecutable offense. Further, that a lie of this sort does not cause great harm. Perhaps the court is right in saying that the Government oversteps in banning this particular sort of lie. But it is surely absurd and unnecessary for the Court to go as far as it did and declare lying to be protected speech and a Constitutional right. That the court has found this right to lie reminds me of the “right” to abortion that was found in the “penumbras and emanations” of the Constitution. Surely this is a less egregious example but it seems quite a corruption of law and the Constitution to argue that wrongful acts, (we call them sins in the Church), are protected Constitutional rights.
Here seems more evidence that the Judicial Branch is in serious philosophical trouble. The 9th Circuit Appeals Court is famous for strange rulings of course and so perhaps my diagnosis is too sweeping.
I am not a skilled legal commentator and so invite your remarks on this especially if you do have a legal background.