Popular parody website files amicus brief laced with satire to the Supreme Court

The Onion argued protecting satire was vital to preserving free speech rights

The popular parody news outlet The Onion sent an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of a parody social media page, arguing in favor of the free speech rights of satire outlets.

"The Onion cannot stand idly by in the face of a ruling that threatens to disembowel a form of rhetoric that has existed for millennia, that is particularly potent in the realm of political debate, and that, purely incidentally, forms the basis of The Onion’s writers’ paychecks," the website's lawyer, Stephen van Stempvoort, wrote in the brief.

The case at issue, Anthony Novak v. City of Parma, Ohio, centers around an Ohio man who was arrested after running a parody Facebook page that made fun of his city's police department. Novak, the petitioner behind the case, was briefly jailed by police and faced criminal charges for the page, though he was acquitted of the charges in court.

The Supreme Court has not yet decided if it will take up the case.


The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Novak later filed a lawsuit against the city over the ordeal, claiming his constitutional rights were violated by the arrest. His lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court to take on this case after a federal appeals court ruled that the officers involved were protected from lawsuits because of the qualified immunity legal doctrine.

The Onion, which told the Supreme Court in the brief that it is "the single most powerful and influential organization in human history," is encouraging the nation's high court to hear the case, arguing that protecting satire is an important part of ensuring free speech rights.

"The Onion regularly pokes its finger in the eyes of repressive and authoritarian regimes, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, and domestic presidential administrations," the brief reads. "So The Onion’s professional parodists were less than enthralled to be confronted with a legal ruling that fails to hold government actors accountable for jailing and prosecuting a would-be humorist simply for making fun of them."

On June 30, 2022, Justice Jackson took the oaths of office to become the 104th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. 

On June 30, 2022, Justice Jackson took the oaths of office to become the 104th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.  (Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States via Getty Images)


The brief mixes satire, sarcasm and legal arguments, while building on its history of poking at the Supreme Court by calling out its heavy use of Latin phrases.

The "federal judiciary is staffed entirely by total Latin dorks," the brief reads, noting that the outlet uses the Latin phrase "Tu stultus es" in its own motto, which translates into "You are dumb."

The brief also makes clear the seriousness of the case, arguing that the stakes for free speech were high.

Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court of the United States (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)


"The Onion intends to continue its socially valuable role bringing the disinfectant of sunlight into the halls of power," the brief reads. "The petition for certiorari should be granted, the rights of the people vindicated, and various historical wrongs remedied. The Onion would welcome any one of the three, particularly the first."