The United States Supreme Court ruled this morning that a law preventing "disparaging" names from being registered as protected trademarks violates the First Amendment. Today's decision marks a victory for Simon Shiao Tam, who has fought for nearly a decade to register The Slants, the name of his dance-rock band based in Portland, Oregon, as a trademark.
"We’re beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court," Tam wrote in a Facebook post. "This journey has always been much bigger than our band: it’s been about the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what’s best for ourselves."
Although The Slants is comprised of Asian American musicians, the United States Patent and Trademark Office repeatedly denied Tam's trademark applications on grounds that the band name was "disparaging" to Asians. While today's ruling is good news for The Slants, other offensively-named organizations could also benefit, the New York Times reports.
The Times speculates the high court's new ruling makes it more likely that the infamous Washington Redskins football team "will win its fight to retain federal trademark protection."
The government has applied the law inconsistently when faced with trademarks based on ethnic slurs. It has, for instance, both registered and rejected trademarks for the terms “Heeb,” “Dago,” “Injun” and “Squaw.”
In the Redskins case, the trademark office registered the team’s trademarks in 1967, 1974, 1978 and 1990. In 2014, though, it reversed course and canceled six registrations, saying they disparaged Native Americans.
Big free speech win today! Supreme Court rules against government for refusing to grant trademark to Asian-American rock band The Slants. pic.twitter.com/fY6OpYMT0h
— ACLU National (@ACLU) June 19, 2017
Redskins owners are celebrating the ruling, ESPN reports.
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.
"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," Blatt said in a statement.
Tam was not immediately available to provide comment. Here's what Tam told The Stranger in May when asked whether he was concerned a ruling in The Slants' favor would undermine efforts to get the Washington, DC team to change its name:
The reason I've been more comfortable with the notion that it might inadvertently help [team majority owner Daniel Snyder] out if we win is that at the end of the day, we can't be blinded with our obsession to punish people like him who are willing to accept that the collateral damage is actually experienced by marginalized communities.
The law we're fighting is disproportionately used against communities of color and members of the LGBTQ community because we tend to be the communities who re-appropriate language and reclaim formerly offensive things. This basically makes us prime targets for the law.
We will update when we hear back from him.