by Dennis Crouch
I assume that you have read The Onion amicus brief in Novak v. City of Parma Ohio. If not, please do it is a total classic.
The case involves Anthony Novak who created a parody Facebook page to mock his the local police department in Parma, Ohio. The posts were clearly parody after perhaps a bit of initial confusion. Once Novak heard that the police were upset, he took down the posts (after 12 hours online). Still, Novak was eventually arrested, jailed, and prosecuted for disrupting police functions. His home was searched, and all of his electronic equipment was seized. A jury eventually acquitted Novak. He then turned around and sued for violation of his constitutionally protected civil rights. But, the courts found the arresting officers entitled to qualified immunity. Novak v. City of Parma, Ohio, 33 F.4th 296 (6th Cir. 2022).
The petition for certiorari asks two questions:
- Whether an officer is entitled to qualified immunity for arresting an individual based solely on speech parodying the government, so long as no case has previously held the particular speech is protected.
- Whether the Court should reconsider the doctrine of qualified immunity.
Novak Petition. Novak’s basic position is that the “police shouldn’t be able to arrest you for making a joke at their expense.”
One problem with Novak’s posts is that over the past few years it has become more and more difficult to tell the difference between satire and reality. The Sixth Circuit suggested a preemptive “THIS IS PARODY” warning, but that doesn’t seem quite right. For parody to really work, there needs to be some initial source confusion — the parody has to be initially plausible to get full comedic effect.
Over at The Onion, journalists are sad-proud about the fact that they regularly forecast future events with their “reporting.” They give the example of their 2017 post on nuclear codes sitting around at Mar-A-Lago. Those folks are obviously concerned that their work may also be held
The Onion files this brief to protect its continued ability to create fiction that may ultimately merge into reality. As the globe’s premier parodists, The Onion’s writers also have a self-serving interest in preventing political authorities from imprisoning humorists. This brief is submitted in the interest of at least mitigating their future punishment.
Onion Brief. According to the Supreme Court docket, the court has twice rejected the Onion Brief, but I’m confident that the court went ahead and read the thing.
Let me know what you think.
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I feel compelled to mention that I spent a summer living in Parma Ohio (in one of the houses below). I was 19 and just had a 10-speed bicycle that I rode to work each day. As far as I recall, there was nothing good in that town; and it was worse for someone without a car. I also spent an afternoon in Parma Italy. This was after a month tooling around northern Italy, and we were craving something American. So, we stopped at the Parma Ikea and had Swedish Meatballs.