The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that maintains not allowing names that some find offensive, like The Slants and The Washington Redskins, violates the 1st amendment, the right to free speech.
The high Court did not take up the Redskins case but chose a lawsuit by an Oregon band known as The Slants because it was further along in the legal process. When the leader of the band, Simon Tam, attempted to register their name back in 2011, with the Patent and Trademark Office, he was refused. The Supremes’ ruling on that case will effect the Redskins and their ability to regain the trademark of their name. From the Washington Post:
The patent office said the name was likely to disparage a significant number of Asian Americans. But Tam said the point of the band’s name is just the opposite: an attempt to reclaim a slur and use it “as a badge of pride.”
“Simon Tam is not a bigot; he is fighting bigotry with the time-honored technique of seizing the bigots’ own language,” Tam’s lawyer, John C. Connell, wrote. “Only an uninformed philistine could find the band’s name disparaging.”
At issue is the 1946 Lanham Act that prohibits the trademark registration of any name that ‘may disparage’ people. That is being challenged as a violation of free speech. It’s also being challenged because the law is vague and opaque with the government’s rulings being capricious. The government gets to decide which names are ok and which aren’t. From the Washington Post:
The PTO (Patent and Trademark Office) denied registration to Have You Heard Satan is a Republican “because it disparaged the Republican Party,” the band’s lawyers wrote, but it did not find the Devil Is a Democrat “disparaging.”
The Slants case was chosen because they further along in their lawsuit than the Redskins. The Redskins are waiting an appeal to the 4th circuit after a district judge refused to overturn the PTO’s ruling in 2014 removing the trademark of the team’s 84 year old name.
The Supreme Court will hear The Slants’ case during the coming session which begins on Monday.