Home » The Onion Takes on the Supreme Court

The Onion Takes on the Supreme Court

The Onion
Courtesy of Matt Wade (Flickr CC0)

The Onion, a website best known for its satirical posts with a tongue-in-cheek attitude about politics and current affairs, has taken the extremely serious step of submitting an amicus brief to the Supreme Court.

By requesting the Supreme Court to hear the case of an Ohio man who was detained and ultimately found not guilty for constructing a false Facebook page that was almost exactly like the website of a nearby police department, the government is entering the arena of legal advocacy.

Can Americans be jailed for mocking the government? Onion was taken aback by this, and the editorial staff had a difficult learning experience as a result, according to the site’s lawyers.

The headlines surrounding this case, according to The Onion, appeared to be lifted directly from the front pages of its own publication.

The Onion
Courtesy of Sarah Marshall (Flickr CC0)

The Onion’s amicus brief is written in a very ironic, satirical manner, but its ultimate goal is sincere: to persuade the Supreme Court to hear the case involving free speech and qualified immunity, a legal theory that largely protects law enforcement personnel from constitutional claims and one that the justices have largely avoided challenging in recent cases.

Anthony Novak, the guy at the center of the investigation, was detained in 2016 after he created a Facebook page that was an exact replica of the Parma, Ohio Police Department’s official page. Police charged Novak with publishing offensive and inflammatory content while posing as legitimate members of the police force, complete with false job listings and statements that the police department prohibited minorities from applying.

Novak was accused of one felony count of interfering with public services, but she was eventually found not guilty after a jury trial.

The Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals most recently blocked Novak’s attempts to sue the police department for violating his free speech rights, ruling in April that Novak could not proceed with his lawsuit against the officers because they had a reasonable belief that they were acting within the law.

The judging panel, however, continued to be critical of the police officials’ conduct.

The appeals court stated that granting the officers qualified immunity does not mean their actions were appropriate or should be excused. Indeed, situations like this place a special responsibility on government officials to act responsibly. Was Novak’s Facebook page worth the time and effort it took for the government and Novak to file two appeals and go through a criminal investigation?

The Onion is now supporting Novak, arguing that its own business model may be challenged if such satire is vulnerable to police involvement, as Novak’s legal team seeks the Supreme Court to hear its appeal.

The Onion’s amicus brief stated that the Sixth Circuit’s decision endangers an ancient form of speech. According to the court’s ruling, parodists are only protected if they pop the balloon beforehand by telling their audience that their parody is not accurate. According to the Sixth Circuit’s ruling, in this case, parodists must openly state upfront that their work is nothing more than a complex fiction in order for the First Amendment to protect them.

The court could choose to hear the case next year because the city of Parma’s response is due on October 28.

According to Steve Vladeck, a CNN Supreme Court commentator and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, the Supreme Court gets more than 5,000 certiorari petitions each year and grants only approximately one percent of them. As a result, bringing attention to a particular case is sometimes the most crucial thing that private litigants can do to improve their chances. In that regard, it can’t hurt to have a friend-of-the-court brief from The Onion that very successfully emphasizes the significance of the underlying issue.

Written By Dylan Santoyo


CNN: The Onion tells the Supreme Court – seriously – that satire is no laughing matter

Bloomberg: The Onion Filed a Brief With the Supreme Court. It’s Not a Joke

Clevland: The Onion, mixing jokes with legal arguments, files brief in U.S. Supreme Court backing Parma man who sued after arrest for fake Facebook page

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Matt Wade’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of Sarah Marshall’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.