ACLU Files Hilarious Amicus Brief in Support of John Oliver

By George Khoury, Esq. on August 03, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The highly anticipated defamation case against John Oliver and HBO brought by Robert Murray and his corporate coal conglomerate has been making headlines since its filing shortly after Oliver aired his segment on the coal baron. Although Oliver was warned that airing the segment would lead to litigation, his team was confident enough in the First Amendment to proceed.

However, while Oliver's segment may have been hilarious, an amicus curiae brief filed by the ACLU of West Virginia in the case may actually be the funniest piece of legal writing in human history.

Brief but Brilliant

The ACLU's brief is just chock full of witty, borderline harassing quips and commentary, including section headings that speak directly to Robert Murray as if he were an un-liked, yet familiar, chum. For example, the first argument section is titled: "Plaintiff's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order is Ridiculous. Courts Can't Tell Media Companies How to Report the News, Bob." And each argument section is similarly titled with a snarky comment directed at "Bob."

In addition to the sucker-punch headlines, the actual arguments themselves are presented in fantastic comic style. For instance, in responding to the defamation allegation Murray makes objecting to a comparison to Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movie franchise, the ACLU brief posted two pictures side-by-side: one of Dr. Evil in his pinky-to-the-mouth-one-million-dollars pose, right next to a picture of Murray making the exact same pose, pinky-ring and all, and looking rather similar to Dr. Evil. Immediately preceding the pictures is a comment about truth being an affirmative defense to defamation.

Satire in Brief

As the ACLU brief explains, repeatedly, John Oliver's show is a satirical, comedic, program that informs while making light of current events. As the brief explains, the segment on Murray started off by stating that coal is "basically cocaine for Thomas the Tank Engine." The brief then goes on to explain some of the bedrock principles of the First Amendment that protect opinions, satire, and other forms of speech.

Currently, before the court is a motion for a temporary restraining order to prevent rebroadcast of the segment. However, it is unlikely to be successful as the burden is rather high and money damages would be an adequate remedy at the end of the day (the harm is not irreparable). Based on the already heated litigation that has occurred, it is anticipated that this case will be hot for some time as the parties will likely use every available motion and court procedure against each other. So ... get some popcorn and get ready for some theatrics and legal shenanigans.

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