The Onion Files Amicus Brief Championing Right to Parody After Controversial Sixth Circuit Decision

by Brian Davis, Staff Writer

Photo Courtesy of

In March 2016, comedian Anthony Novak, a resident of Parma, Ohio, created a Facebook page parodying the Parma Police Department.[1] As a result of Novak’s obvious satirical posts on Facebook, Parma Police officers arrested Novak, searched his home, and charged him with an Ohio law felony that prohibits the use of “any computer . . . to disrupt, interrupt, or impair the functions of any police . . . operations.”[2]

Novak spent four days in jail and underwent a criminal trial that ultimately resulted in a jury finding him not guilty.[3]But that was not the end of Novak’s saga—he sued the city of Parma for damages, proclaiming that the Parma Police Department violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.[4] The Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the officers, citing qualified immunity as a defense that granted the officers protection from liability stemming from their actions to remove comments from Novak’s page and with regard to Novak’s claim that they violated his right to anonymity.[5]

Novak’s litigation team filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, requesting the Supreme Court to determine whether the Parma police officers were entitled to qualified immunity.[6] In essence, they asked the Supreme Court to wrestle with the definition of parody and how the concept fits into the American political and governmental landscape.

The head writer of The Onion, Mike Gillis, submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court defending Novak and the right to parody.[7] In keeping with its farcical traditions, The Onion’s brief begins, “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 experience for its editorial team.”[8] The brief is equal parts comedy and lampoon, as it is scathing and serious. 

The very existence of satire and parody is at stake for The Onion, in that the content they produce is contingent on a free space of public ideas.[9] Thus, allowing those in positions of authority to arrest someone for the sole reason of poking fun at them sets a dangerous precedent that not only affects The Onion, but society as a whole. The most pressing issue coming from the case, from The Onion’s perspective, is the ability to perfectly mimic the voice of serious authority for purpose of tricking people into thinking that it is real.[10] The Onion itself operates this way, as it passes itself off as a serious news organization in order to momentarily trick its readers into belief, only for the curtain to pull and those readers to understand they fell for the trick.

The Onion laid out a number of reasons why the Sixth Circuit decision was unconstitutional.[11] Specifically, they referred to decisions from other courts stating that “reasonable readers” do not need a disclaimer to understand that works are parody, and even poor attempts at parody can be understood as such by the so-called reasonable reader.[12]

As Novak continues to seek accountability, it is the hope of his litigation team that The Onion’s continued interest and awareness will thrust this issue into the spotlight as the Supreme Court makes its decision on whether to take the case.[13] As of now, the Supreme Court has not granted or denied Novak’s appeal. However, a November 28, 2022, deadline has been set for the City of Parma to file a response.[14]


[2] Id.


[4] Novak v. City of Parma, 932 F.3d 421 (6th Cir. 2019).

[5] Id.



[8] Id.


[10] Id.


[12] Brief of The Onion as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner at 11-12, Novak v. City of Parma, 932 F.3d 421 (6th Cir. 2019) (No. 22-293).



Comments are closed.