The Onion defends parody in US Supreme Court brief
US Supreme Court (AFP)

It's not often that the justices of the US Supreme Court receive a legal brief that is laugh-out-loud funny.

But they haven't received one from The Onion before.

The popular satirical website filed an amicus brief on Monday in support of an Ohio man who was arrested for creating a parody page on Facebook of his hometown police department.

"Americans can be put in jail for poking fun at the government?" the Onion asked in the filing in support of Anthony Novak of Parma, Ohio.

"This was a surprise to America's Finest News Source and an uncomfortable learning experience for its editorial team."

The 18-page filing is a mix of serious legal argument, jokes, hyperbole and a defense of the art of parody.

Claiming a daily readership of "4.3 trillion," the Onion described itself as the "single most powerful and influential organization in human history."

It said the facts of Novak's case "managed to eclipse what The Onion's staff could make up."

Novak was arrested after creating a spoof Facebook page in 2016 mocking the police department in Parma.

Accused of disrupting public services and interfering with police functions, Novak was acquitted in a jury trial.

He went on to sue the police department charging that his free speech rights had been violated.

An appeals court backed the police, however, and Novak is now seeking to have the Supreme Court hear his case.

That's where the Onion entered the fray, filing what is known as a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Novak.

"As the globe's premier parodists, The Onion's writers also have a self-serving interest in preventing political authorities from imprisoning humorists," it said.

"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, that is particularly potent in the realm of political debate, and that, purely incidentally, forms the basis of The Onion's writers' paychecks."

© Agence France-Presse