- In 2016, Anthony Novak created a Facebook page parodying the Parma Police Department.
- Police obtained an arrest warrant for Novak and charged him with a felony.
- The Onion filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court after an appeals court granted the officers qualified immunity.
The Onion, a satirical online publication, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on Monday, asking it to hear a case involving a man who was arrested after creating a fake Facebook page that mimics the official page of a local police department.
“Can Americans go to jail for mocking the government? This was a surprise for America’s Finest News Source and an uncomfortable learning experience for its editorial team,” the brief begins.
Known for its satirical, humorous views, The Onion’s amicus brief — typically submitted by parties interested in providing information relevant to a case or legal argument — is far from fictional.
The flyer was in support of Anthony Novak, who in 2016 created a Facebook page parodying the Parma Police Department. The page included posts mocking the department, including an announcement to “officially stay indoors and cover family day” to “reduce future crimes,” according to The Institute of Justice (IJ), a law firm representing Novak.
The IJ said the Parma Police Department “did not appreciate Anthony’s criticism” and Novak was charged with a felony under an Ohio law that criminalizes using a computer to “disrupt” “police operations.”
Novak eventually filed a civil rights lawsuit, but the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the officers qualified immunity — a legal doctrine that protects police officers from civil lawsuits for incidents that occur while on duty. Therefore, Novak’s case was dismissed.
On September 28, Novak’s lawyers filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision, according to Cleveland.com.
The Onion’s amicus brief aims to persuade the Supreme Court to continue the case and said the Sixth Circuit’s ruling “endangers an ancient form of discourse.” The brief included examples from Horace, a Roman poet and writer, and humorist Mark Twain.
“As Mark Twain put it, ‘The humorous story is told seriously; the teller does his best to hide the fact that he even dimly suspects there is anything funny in it.’ Not only is the Sixth Circuit on the wrong side of Twain, but grafting onto the reasonable reader test a requirement that parodists expressly disclaim their own pretense to reality is bad for the American public. It assumes that ordinary readers are less sophisticated and more humorless than they actually are,” the brief said.
In a statement provided to Insider, Patrick Jaicomo, lead attorney on the case, said the Institute for Justice is thrilled to support The Onion.
“As The Onion’s brief masterfully demonstrates, parody — like the one for which Mr. Novak was arrested, jailed and prosecuted by Parma, Ohio officials — is not only a uniquely persuasive tool for advancing an argument, but a form of speech absolutely protected by the First Amendment,” the statement said. “We are optimistic that the Onion’s brief will help us convince the Supreme Court to take up this case and ensure that the First Amendment is enforceable in American courts.”
Representatives for The Onion did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.