WASHINGTON—Anthony Novak was arrested and prosecuted for making fun of his local police department with a parody Facebook page. He was acquitted by a jury and sued the city and its officers over the violation of his First Amendment rights. That suit was denied after courts granted the officers qualified immunity. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Anthony’s appeal, which was filed by the Institute for Justice (IJ).
“Sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court decision today leaves in place a ruling that allows qualified immunity to override the free speech rights of every person in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee,” said IJ Senior Attorney Patrick Jaicomo. “Anthony’s Facebook page was the type of government parody that the founders intended to protect through the First Amendment, which is why The Onion and The Babylon Bee supported our appeal. That everyday people can see the inside of a jail cell for their jokes on Facebook is yet another reason why qualified immunity must come to an end.”
“I’m disappointed the Supreme Court won’t consider my case both because I won’t be able to hold the officers accountable for their violation of my rights, but also because I worry about what will happen to others who poke fun at the powerful,” said Anthony. “The government shouldn’t be able to arrest you for making a joke at its expense.”
Anthony’s case is not the only example of police using their power to punish someone for telling a joke. IJ is also representing Waylon Bailey of Rapides Parish, Louisiana, in a suit against the local sheriff’s office and one of its detectives. In March 2020, Waylon posted a joke equating the developing COVID-19 pandemic to a zombie outbreak. His post included emoji and referenced Brad Pitt’s starring role in the movie World War Z. Even though the post was obviously a joke, sheriff’s deputies showed up at Waylon’s home, arrested him and charged him under an anti-terrorism law.
IJ also advocates for a legislative solution to the problems caused by qualified immunity, the Protecting Everyone’s Constitutional Rights Act. In recent years, Colorado, New Mexico and New York City have enacted laws that ban qualified immunity as a legal defense for law enforcement officers.