WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that television evangelist Jerry Falwell cannot collect $200,000 from smut magnate Larry Flynt for suffering emotional distress over an ad parody that a jury found not libelous.
The court, in a ruling by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, reversed a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that awarded the money to Falwell.
The court noted that satirical cartoons and parodies have long "played a prominent role in public and political debate" and were deserving of First Amendment protection, and the parody of Falwell fit that area of constitutional law even if the caricature of Falwell was "at best a distant cousin of the political cartoons."
Rehnquist said to make an exception for the parody would be a mistake.
"Were we to hold otherwise, there can be little doubt that political cartoonists and satirists would be subjected to damages awards without any showing that their work falsely defamed its subject," Rehnquist said.
The court's newest justice, Anthony Kennedy, who joined the court last week, took no part in the ruling.