Justices say law on offensive trademarks is unconstitutional

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The Supreme Court, however, struck down that clause Monday, ruling that the law's prohibition on providing federal trademarks for disparaging terms or logos violated the First Amendment's free speech protections.

The ban violates the First Amendment free speech clause and "contrary to the government's contention, trademarks are private, not government speech", said the court in its decision.

Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft
Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft

The nation's capital has been captivated for years with the battle over the Redskins' name, but the high court had left the football team's case pending at a federal appeals court in order to hear the challenge brought by band leader Simon Tam and his Portland, Oregon-based foursome. The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied the band's request for a trademark, finding their name could offend Asians. A federal appeals court in Washington later said the law barring offensive trademarks is unconstitutional. Shortly after that, the Tam case was headed to the Supreme Court, and Washington appealed for their own Supreme Court hearing, ahead of any decision by the Fourth Circuit.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder said he was "thrilled" with the Supreme Court's ruling, and team attorney Lisa Blatt said the court's decision effectively resolves the Redskins' longstanding dispute with the government. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court's unanimous opinion, agreed.

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The case has drawn intense interest as it focused on the rights of free speech enshrined in the First Amendment of the USA constitution, at a time of heightened racial tensions in the country. Monday's ruling in favor of The Slants would have protected the designers, since the name Blue Ivy would have been an exercise of free speech. The court decided the ban on registering "scandalous, immoral, or disparaging remarks" violated the First Amendment. "The Supreme Court vindicated the Team's position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or canceling a trademark registration based on the government's opinion".

"The point is that I can say good things about something, but I can't say bad things about something" in a trademark, she said.

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In a filing Monday, the Justice Department defended the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's decision a year ago to strip the team of protections.

Patent and Trademark Office spokesman Paul Fucito said the agency was reviewing the decision. The government argued that granting a trademark to The Slants effectively constituted a subsidy - citing a line of cases going back decades, they argued that the government is not required to sponsor or underwrite expression. It essentially kills any formal drive to legally pressure the team into changing its name. Whether you're a musician, a politician, or a sports team-the Washington Redskins' moniker will now be safe-it's civil society (consumers, voters, fans) who should decide whether you're being too offensive for polite company.

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Shupe made history past year when he became the first person in the U.S.to win the right to legally identify as non-binary. She said the move is a step towards "a society that upholds the rights, liberties and dignity of each of its people".

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