I don’t mean to sully his reputation as some kind of rebel, but twice now a unanimous Supreme Court helmed by a conservative has sided with Larry Flynt on an important civil liberties call. In 1988 the Supremes backed Flynt in his legal battle with Moral Majority preacher Jerry Falwell, who took umbrage at a HUSTLER ad parody stating that the first time he’d had sex was in an outhouse with his mother.
“Outrageous” but “not a sufficient reason for suppressing it,” ruled then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist in a unanimous decision. Even with a Richard Nixon appointee known for some harsh right-wing views presiding, the Supreme Court declared that parody is Constitutionally protected speech, and an era of vicious late-night comedy was spawned. (One can revisit the landmark case by watching The People vs. Larry Flynt, with Woody Harrelson as our favorite—in the words of Jerry Falwell—“sleaze merchant.”)
The Supreme Court agreed with Flynt a second time in a unanimous decision announced in June of this year. Written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., a George W. Bush appointee, it clearly affirms the basic Fourth Amendment right to privacy in our high-tech society.