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20 June 2017, 12:11 | Mandy Simon
The case involved an appeals court decision--regarding an Asian-American band trying to trademark the name "Slants"-that the disparagement provision in law that prohibits trademarks that "disparage persons, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols" is an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech-it is usually the most controversial speech that is most in need of protecting". The Supreme Court says the government can't refuse to register trademarks that are considered offensive.
In addition to Washington's football team, The Slants have found a disparate group of advocates in their corner, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which called today's ruing a victory for the First Amendment.
After a federal court agreed with Tam and his band, the Patent and Trademark Office sued to avoid being compelled to register its name as a trademark.
"After an excruciating legal battle that has spanned almost eight years, we´re beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court", Tam said in a statement on social media after the ruling. She said the nickname is a racist slur that never should have been trademarked in the first place.
In affirming a lower court ruling, the Supreme Court said the disparagement clause in the Lanham Act violates the First Amendment's protections of free speech.
The 71-year-old trademark law that bars disparaging terms infringes on free speech rights, the justices ruled unanimously 8-0.
"[The provision of the Lanham Act in question] offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend", Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion. It essentially kills any formal drive to legally pressure the team into changing its name. A federal appeals court in Richmond put the team's case on hold while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the Slants case. "Contrary to the Government's contention, trademarks are private, not government speech".
When NPR asked Tam in January how he felt about Synder potentially benefiting from his lawsuit, he said, "We've been so obsessed with punishing villains like Dan Snyder, we don't realize that there is this impact on bystanders".
"I am THRILLED", Snyder told the AP.
The court also said the Voting Rights Act provision at issue could only be enforced by the US attorney general, and lawsuits by private parties were barred. Alito also said trademarks are not immune from First Amendment protection as part of a government program or subsidy.
Band members also dedicated their new release, "The Band Who Must Be Named", as an "open letter to the United States Patent and Trademark Office to articulate these values".
"A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all", writes Kennedy.
Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court after arguments were heard in the case and did not participate in Monday's decision.
In a filing Monday, the Justice Department defended the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's decision previous year to strip the team of protections.
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