On Monday, in a ruling that came in a separate case brought on by the Asian-American band, The Slants, who’d been denied a trademark because its name was considered disparaging; the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the 71-year-old trademark barring disparaging terms infringes on free speech rights. Deeming it unconstitutional.
“It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” said Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. in his opinion for the court. Also adding, while quoting a classic 1929 dissent from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate’.”
While it has some sympathizers outraged, this is a win for the Washington Redskins who made similar arguments after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled in 2014 that the name offends American Indians and canceled the team’s trademark. Even though the Redskins have long insisted that their name honors American Indians, saying it represents honor, respect, and pride.
“The team is thrilled with today’s decision as it resolves the Redskins’ long-standing dispute with the government. 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,” said Redskins lawyer, Lisa Blatt in a statement after the ruling.
It doesn’t necessarily mean the team will automatically have their trademark requests approved, but it does give them a huge boost in their fight to keep their team name.