SCOTUS Rules FOR First Amendment
The US Supreme Court has struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks, ruling in favor of an Asian-American rock band called the Slants and giving a major boost to the Washington Redskins in their separate legal fight over the team name.
The court ruled 8-0 in favor of Portland, Oregon-based dance rock band, which had been denied a trademark because the government deemed the name disparaging to people of Asian descent.
The justices were unanimous in saying that the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights.
“It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Justice Samuel Alito said in his opinion for the court.
“The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause,” Justice Alito explained in his Matal v. Tam opinion. “Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech.”
Writing separately, Justice Anthony Kennedy said ban on disparaging trademarks was a clear form of viewpoint discrimination that is forbidden under the First Amendment.
The ruling is expected to have a direct impact on a separate case involving National Football League’s Washington Redskins. The team filed a legal challenge to a 2014 decision by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office which cancelled the team’s six trademarks at the request of Native American activists on grounds that the team name disparaged Native Americans.
Despite intense public pressure to change the name, Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused, saying in the past that it “represents honor, respect and pride” for Native Americans. Snyder issued a quick response to the decision on Monday: “I am THRILLED. Hail to the Redskins.”
A trademark confers certain legal benefits, including the power to sue competitors that infringe upon the trademark.
Sources and related articles: