Justices say law on offensive trademarks is unconstitutional

The Supreme Court on Monday 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 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.

Slants founder Simon Tam tried to trademark the band name in 2011, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the request on the ground that it disparages Asians. A federal appeals court in Washington later said the law barring offensive trademarks is unconstitutional.

The Redskins made similar arguments after the trademark office ruled in 2014 that the name offends American Indians and canceled the team’s trademark. A federal appeals court in Richmond put the team’s case on hold while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the Slants case.

Tam insisted he was not trying to be offensive, but wanted to transform a derisive term into a statement of pride. The Redskins also contend their name honors American Indians, but the team has faced decades of legal challenges from Indian groups that say the name is racist.

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.”

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

“The Supreme Court vindicated the team’s position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or cancelling a trademark registration based on the government’s opinion,”…

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