The Daily

Yes, The Onion’s SCOTUS Brief Is Hysterical. And Brilliant.

The Onion is the world’s leading news publication, offering highly acclaimed, universally revered coverage of breaking national, international, and local news events. Rising from its humble beginnings as a print newspaper in 1756, The Onion now enjoys a daily readership of 4.3 trillion and has grown into the single most powerful and influential organization in human history.

So begins the satirical and brilliant defense of Anthony Novak before the Supreme Court of the United States. Judges sometimes have a go at wry humor when they write opinions. Not as often, lawyers might bravely venture into humor – intentionally or otherwise. Rarely do you see the kind of full-tilt onslaught of parody used by The Onion’s lawyers in their ‘friend of the court’ offering.

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.

This tradition has modern practitioners like David Sedaris, Carl Hiassen, PJ O’Rourke, Hunter S. Thompson, and Mike Royko. The tradition dates all the way back to Jonathan Swift, Moliere, and the ancient Greeks.

And no argument before SCOTUS on free speech would be complete without reference to pornography precedent. From the Brief,

The point of all this is not that it is funny when deluded figures of authority mistake satire for the actual news—even though that can be extremely funny. Rather, it’s that the parody allows these figures to puncture their own sense of self-importance by falling for what any reasonable person would recognize as an absurd escalation of their own views. In the political context, the effect can be particularly pronounced. See Hustler Mag., Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 53–55 (1988); see also Falwell v. Flynt, 805 F.2d 484, 487 (4th Cir. 1986) (Wilkinson, J., dissenting from denial of rehearing) (“Nothing is more thoroughly democratic than to have the high-and-mighty lampooned and spoofed.”).

I also love that one of the few citations in the brief is to a case involving the country music or songwriting publishing company, Acuff Rose.

And the latter portion of the Brief contains this hopeful note.

And the “reasonable reader” is “ ‘no dullard. He or she does not represent the lowest common denominator, but reasonable intelligence and learning. He or she can tell the difference between satire and sincerity.’ ” New Times, Inc. v. Isaacks, 146 S.W.3d 144, 157 (Tex. 2004) (quoting Patrick v. Sup. Ct., 27 Cal. Rptr. 2d 883, 887 (Ct. App. 1994)). “Nor is the reasonable person some totally humorless drudge who cannot perceive the presence of subtle invective.” Patrick, 27 Cal. Rptr. 2d at 887. Instead, the reasonable reader’s perspective “is more informed by an assessment of her well-considered view than by her immediate yet transitory reaction,” particularly “in light of the special characteristics of satire,” which leverage that transitory reaction for rhetorical effect. Farah, 736 F.3d at 536.

Congratulations to the authors Mssr’s Stempvoort and Portinga – and The Onion – on a job well done.

Here is the link:

The Onion’s SCOTUS Brief