The Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional the federal government’s practice of refusing to register trademarks that officials deem to be offensive on racial, religious or similar grounds.
The justices ruled, 8-0, in favor of Simon Tam, the front man for an all-Asian-American rock band known as “The Slants.”
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had refused to register the band’s name, citing a law that denied trademarks that disparage individuals, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.
The result in the closely-watched case could doom legal challenges to other trademarks many consider offensive, such as that for the Washington Redskins football team. The team’s owners backed the musician’s attack on the anti-disparagement rule.
The eight justices who considered the case held unanimously that the clause banning registration of disparaging trademarks violates the First Amendment.
“It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote.
Alito had the full support of the justices for the conclusion that trademarks are private speech, not government speech.
“It is far-fetched to suggest that the content of a registered mark is government speech. If the federal registration of a trademark makes the mark government speech, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently,” Alito wrote. “It is saying many unseemly things…. It is expressing contradictory views. It is unashamedly endorsing a vast array of commercial products and services. And it is providing Delphic advice to the consuming public.”
I really hope this is the beginning of a trend. Slant Lives Matter.
BTW – Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the decision.