Supreme Court Sides With The Slants In Landmark Trademark Case

Posted June 21, 2017

The band's case was brought by Simon Tam, lead singer for The Slants, who said they chose their name as an act of re-appropriation - taking a name sometimes used to disparage Asian Americans and owning it "as a badge of pride", thereby robbing a slur of its power.

It was under the disparagement clause that Blackhorse and a group of other plaintiffs got the Patent and Trademark Office to say in 2014 that the Washington team could not have a trademark on the name "Redskins" - a decision that the team has challenged in court.

The court ruled 8-0 in favor of an Asian-American rock band called The Slants.

Attorneys for the latest group of opponents said Monday that they were "disappointed with Supreme Court's ruling" in the Tam case. In a portion of the opinion joined by seven of the eight participating Justices, he rejected the statutory argument that the disparagement clause prohibits only trademarks that disparage particular natural persons, as opposed to members of a racial or ethnic group more broadly. A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., later said the law barring offensive trademarks is unconstitutional.

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"If the federal registration of a trademark makes the mark government speech", wrote Justice Samuel Alito, "the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently".

In a statement after the Supreme Court's decision, the tribal council of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi said issues like health care, education, and safe and affordable housing are the most pressing issues but they are also committed to curbing offensive behavior.

The U.S. Supreme Court may have just helped the Redskins keep their controversial name.

The group opposing the Redskins trademark registration said they were disappointed with Supreme Court's decision.

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Around the same time, an Asian-American band called The Slants were dealing with a similar battle in court, with SCOTUS claiming the name was demeaning to Asian Americans. "The Court's decision, however, was narrow", the plaintiff's statement said. "It should now follow that their trademark also should not have been invalidated". Nine of 10 American Indians have no problem with the use of the term "Redskins" as a sports mascot, according to a poll previous year conducted by the Washington Post. Adrian Jawort, in his November 12, 2012 article in Indian Country Today entitled "Redskins Not So Black and White", dismissed that as simply "revisionist history". "It will become I think a point for the consumer marketplace to define parameters".

"The (lower) courts found the name is offensive", Blackhorse said.

In light of the ruling, the Washington Redskins will likely not have to change its name. If you're interested, hear "From the Heart", from the Slants' cheekily-titled The Band Who Must Not Be Named EP, below.

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