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Alan Isaacman's Speech in the Supreme Court December 25, 1996

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Alan Isaacman delivers his defense for Larry Flynt in the Supreme Court. Alan is played by Edward Norton in the drama and biographical film, The People vs. Larry Flynt.

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ALAN: ...a political cartoon that's 200 years old. It depicts George Washington riding on a donkey being led by a man and the caption suggests that this man is leading an ass to Washington.

JUDGE: I can handle that. I think George can handle that. But that's a far cry from committing incest with your mother in an outhouse. I mean, there's no line between tne two?

ALAN: No, Justice Scalia, I would say there is no line between the two. Because clearly what you're talking about is a matter of taste, not law. As you yourself said, I believe in Pope vs. Illinois "It's useless to argue about taste and even more useless to litigate it" and that is the case here. The jury has already determined for us that this is a matter of taste, and not of law because they've said there's no libelous speech that nobody could reasonably believe that Hustler was actually suggesting that Jerry Falwell had sex with his mother.

JUDGE: So why did Hustler have him and his mother together?

ALAN: Hustler puts him and his mother together in an example of literary travesty, if you will.

JUDGE: And what public purpose does this serve?

ALAN: Well, it serves the same public purpose as having Garry Trudeau that Reagan has no brain or that George Bush is a wimp. It lets us look at public figures a little bit differently. We have a long tradition in this country of satiric commentary. If Jerry Falwell can sue when there has been no libelous speech purely on the grounds of emotional distress then so can other public figures.

Imagine, if you will, suits against people like Garry Trudeau and Johnny Carson, for what he says on Tonight's Show Tonight. Obviously, when people criticize public figures they're going to experience emotional distress. We all know that. It's easy to claim and impossible to refute. That's what makes it a meaningless standard. Really, all it does is allow us to punish unpopular speech. And this country is founded, at least in part, on the firm belief that unpopular speech is absolutely vital to the health of our nation.

JUDGE: Thank you, Mr. Isaacman.

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