What a Rock Band's SCOTUS Win Could Mean for the Redskins

Band says decision means "marginalized communities" can determine for themselves what's best, even if it involves words thought racially insensitive. "It could be our slant on life, of what it's like to be Asian-Americans, our perspective".

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday, June 19, that the band can trademark its name, even though some people see it as racially disparaging.

Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said the court's decision effectively resolves the Redskins' longstanding dispute with the government. A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., delayed making a ruling while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the Slants case. The four more "liberal" justices, led by Justice Anthony Kennedy, would've ended the discussion after finding that the PTO here is engaging in viewpoint discrimination among private speech. But they raised the bar for trademark denials so that names deemed to be offensive but not hateful can survive. A slew of local (and not-so-local) politicians want the name changed.

But in a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court said that law violates free expression. "Irony, wit, satire, parody ... these are essential for democracy to thrive, these are weapons that neuter malice".

The decision was a victory for an Asian American dance rock band dubbed The Slants - and, in all likelihood, for the Washington Redskins, whose trademarks were cancelled in 2014 following complaints from Native Americans.

The Slants' frontman, Simon Tam, filed a lawsuit after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office kept the band from registering its name and rejected its appeal, citing the Lanham Act, which prohibits any trademark that could "disparage. or bring. into contemp [t] or disrepute" any "persons, living or dead", as the court states.

When the government grants a trademark to a business owner, the owner gains the exclusive legal right to use the name on products and merchandise such as T-shirts.

The ruling is also a boost for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League, because it will undoubtedly require the government to restore the trademark protection taken away from the team in 2014 after a finding that it was offensive to Native Americans.

The Redskins filed an amicus brief supporting the Slants. New Justice Neil Gorsuch didn't take part in the case because it was argued before he joined the court.

The justices ruled that the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights.

"We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment", Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion.

  • Zachary Reyes