Last week, the Supreme Court considered a case about politics and free speech that also channeled concepts from humorists, as well as comments from a gaggle of lawyers.
There isn’t anything ordinary about the case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Steven Driehaus, which is about the ability of two groups to challenge a controversial Ohio statute that punishes people for making false statements during political campaigns.
One part of the case isn’t overtly funny – it’s about Article III standing under the Constitution about the timing of First Amendment lawsuits.
But the other part of the case – Ohio’s false-statement law – has been a target for humorists and lawyers.
It was a humor- and satire-laden brief filed in the case by the Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro and P.J. O’Rourke that made waves in legal circles as the case hit the Supreme Court.
“Can a state government criminalize political statements that are less than 100% truthful?” they asked in their 24-page brief. And as an original source on the idea of “truthiness,” they cited TV personality Stephen Colbert as its Founding Father.
“In modern times, ‘truthiness’—a ‘truth’ asserted ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels right,’ without regard to evidence or logic —is also a key part of political discourse. It is difficult to imagine life without it, and our political discourse is weakened by Orwellian laws that try to prohibit it.”
To discuss the Susan B. Anthony List case on our We The People podcast, we have the two authors of that brief with us: Ilya Shapiro and P.J. O’Rourke.
Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review. He has filed more than 100 “friend of the court” briefs in the Supreme Court.
P.J. O’Rourke is America’s leading political satirist and the H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute. Formerly the editor of the National Lampoon, he has written for numerous publications, and he is now a correspondent for the Atlantic.
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