The Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal trademarks of terms some consider derogatory are covered by the First Amendment, a decision that, in all likelihood, will clear the way for the Washington Redskins to get back trademarks that were canceled in 2014 after complaints by Native Americans.
Monday’s ruling came in a case involving an Asian-American rock band called “The Slants” in the case Matal, interim director, United States Patent and Trademark Office vs. Tam.
“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 for a unanimous court.
A federal judge in 2015 affirmed the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s 2014 revocation of six federal trademark registrations belonging to the Redskins.
The Redskins’ attorney issued a statement (via the Washington Times) in response to the ruling, saying, in part, “The Team is thrilled with today’s unanimous decision as it resolves the Redskins’ long-standing dispute with the government. The Supreme Court vindicated the Team’s position.”
— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) June 19, 2017
Revoking the trademarks hasn’t prevented the team from continuing to use the nickname, but, according to Forbes, “it did erase important protections that serve to cause many individuals and corporations to file for such protections in the first place,” such as preventing others from using the nickname for profit.
With Monday’s ruling, it’s expected the Redskins not only will be allowed to resume their legal fight for reinstatement of the trademarks but also likely will prevail in that fight.
The Supreme Court had left the NFL team’s case pending in a federal appeals court in order to hear Simon Tam’s challenge for the Portland, Ore.-based rock band.