This is not a joke: The Onion just filed a Supreme Court brief.
The website, which is beloved for its hilarious fake headlines, asked the justices to take up the case of a Parma, Ohio, man who spent four days in jail after using a fake Facebook page to mock the local police department.
“Americans can be put in jail for poking fun at the government? This was a surprise to America’s Finest News Source and an uncomfortable learning for its editorial team,” the brief from The Onion said.
The document calls on the court to make it clear that that government officials can’t punish citizens for making fun of them.
“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 (and) that is particularly potent in the realm of political debate,” the brief said.
The jokester at the center of the case, Anthony Novak, was already found not guilty of disrupting police functions by a jury. He is fighting for the right to sue the city for damages, according to The New York Times.
“A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit earlier this year, saying that the police had qualified immunity, and an appeals court upheld that decision,” the article said.
Novak and his supporters, including The Onion, argue the Supreme Court should allow the case to proceed.
“In a filing that read in places like one of its articles, The Onion laid out why it believes the authorities in Ohio had acted unconstitutionally, sprinkling in sincere arguments in defense of parody while riddling the rest of the text with moments of jest and hubris,” The New York Times reported.
Those “moments of jest” are jarring, since Supreme Court briefs are typically dry and humorless. But some legal experts think they could be key to ensuring that the justices will pay attention to the case.
“The Supreme Court receives more than 5,000 certiorari petitions each year, and grants only about 1% of them,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, to CNN. “As a result, sometimes the most important thing that private litigants can do to help their chances is to help draw attention to their specific case. In that respect, having a friend-of-the-court brief from The Onion that quite effectively underscores the importance of the underlying issue can’t hurt.”