Supreme Court pushes Redskins' name fight back to society

Rufina Vignone
Giugno 21, 2017

Six of the team's registrations were cancelled after the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board found the team's name offensive to American Indians. The team appealed, and the case was put on hold until this Supreme Court hearing involving an Asian-American rock band named Slants.

In 2011, the PTO ruled that the Asian American rock band and its founder Simon Tam could not trademark "Slants" because it would violate the act.

The top United States court says the government can not deny registration of trademarks with offensive terms, arguing that is a violation of the right to free speech.

In an 8-0 decision, the court in Matal v. Tam upheld a lower court's ruling that the Lanham Act's disparagement clause was unconstitutional under the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause.

Redskins lawyer Lisa Blatt says, "The Supreme Court vindicated the team's position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or cancelling a trademark registration based on the government's opinion".

In January's arguments, numerous Court's eight Justices wondered why the band's name wasn't protected by the First Amendment, when it came to trademark use. It has, for instance, both registered and rejected trademarks for the terms "Heeb", "Dago", "Injun" and "Squaw". You simply can't paint The Slants or the Redskins as an entity of the government outside of the legislation that forces anyone who wants to do business to trademark its intellectual property with said government.

On Monday, Justice Samuel Alito in the main opinion in the case sided with the band. Shortly after that, the Tam case was headed to the Supreme Court, and Washington appealed for their own Supreme Court hearing, ahead of any decision by the Fourth Circuit.

Justice Elena Kagan asked whether the First Amendment rule that prohibits the government from discriminating against disfavored views applies to the trademark's ban on "bad" trademarks. They further argue that whether or not trademarks are commercial speech-an issue not resolved by this opinion-the issue deserves the "heightened scrutiny" required when analyzing government regulation of speech.

While the organization has insisted that its name is not offensive, this recent ruling of the Supreme Court protects even offensive names. "Contrary to the Government's contention, trademarks are private, not government speech".

The law used by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to prevent the National Football League team from registering trademarks in and relating to the word "Redskins" and the logos used by the team was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Despite intense public pressure to change the Redskins name, team owner Dan Snyder has refused, saying in the past that it "represents honor, respect and pride" for Native Americans.

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