Supreme Court pushes Redskins' name fight back to society

Virginia Carter
June 20, 2017

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of an Asian-American rock band called the Slants in their case against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The Supreme Court on Monday, June 19, 2017, struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks in a ruling that is expected to help the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name. It was dedicated, Tam said, to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Despite intense public pressure to change the Redskins name, team owner Dan Snyder has refused, saying in the past that it "represents honor, respect and pride" for Native Americans. Tam has said he does not like the Washington team's name. On Monday the court ruled the government is not allowed to refuse registering potentially offensive names.

The Slants' application for trademark was initially denied for reasons stating that the band - whose members are all Asian-Americans - couldn't register the name since it was a racial slur. Simon Tam, the founder of the Slants, said he chose the name to reclaim the term and take away its power.

A lower court agreed with Tam and the Supreme Court on Monday upheld that decision, saying that the "disparagement clause" of the Lanham Act unconstitutionally infringed on free speech rights.

The disparagement provision, Alito wrote, "offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend". At the request of a group of Native Americans, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Redskins' trademarks in 2014 for violating the disparagement clause.

That trademark office ruling capped a fight that began in 1992 when another group of activists sued - and lost - in an attempt to block the team's use of the name.

"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.

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The Redskins' case is now at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which has been waiting for the Supreme Court's decision in the Tam case.

A statement issued in the name of Blackhorse and four other Native American petitioners called the high court's ruling narrow: "It focused exclusively on whether the disparagement provision of the law was constitutional".

Lawrence Nodine, an intellectual property litigator who was one of three who wrote an amicus brief for the International Trademark Association in the band's case, said the decision was the right outcome. The next place for this argument very well may be the team's effort to get a new stadium, and Carter said politicians could use it as a part of the negotiation if taxpayer money is involved.

"The case that came out today was an issue of free speech, meaning that the Washington team can continue to use inappropriate and racist terms to refer to Native American people, that's all", Blackhorse said.

"Just because the Redskins may believe they're in the clear or the Cleveland Indians or even some collegiate teams (think) they're in the clear, that doesn't mean that those that do business with the team, including its sponsors, are going to take their foot off the gas if they believe change is really required", USC professor of sports business David Carter said.

Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said the court's decision effectively resolves the Redskins' longstanding dispute with the government.

Other reports by BadHub

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