The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law that prohibits the government from registering trademarks that "disparage" others violates the First Amendment, a decision that could impact the Washington Redskins' efforts to hang on to its controversial name. Denying trademark registration, they said, was a form of viewpoint discrimination.The Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal trademarks can be registered in most cases even if they are considered derogatory.
The ruling is a victory for Simon Tam, an Asian-American musician and political activist who named his rock band "The Slants" in an attempt to take back a term that once directed as an insult. The Patent and Trademark Office saw in the Lanham Act the creation of a blanket prohibition against terms known to be slurs in its decision to deny Tam and his band of the trademark they sought. After trademark examiners refused Tam's application, Tam brought a lawsuit, and in December 2015, he prevailed at the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. And, as we have explained, that idea strikes at the heart of the First Amendment.
After losing in a lower court, the band won at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which ruled 9-3 a year ago that "the First Amendment protects even hurtful speech".
According to an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, "The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause".
A federal court initially sided with The Slants, and today the Supreme Court did so too, unanimously, in fact. The government may not "penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message it conveys", a majority of the court found.
"This journey has always been much bigger than our band: it's been about the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what´s best for ourselves", he said. Snyder issued a quick statement after Monday's decision: "I am THRILLED.
Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said in a statement that the team feels "vindicated" by the ruling.
"Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought we hate", Alito said in a part of his opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer. And the idea that our market will be flooded by people who just want to register marks on a whim is ridiculous. people have to have an established business goal, pay the fees, go through the paperwork and have their information in public.