Justices say government can't refuse disparaging trademarks

Justices rule ex Bush officials can't be sued in terrorism case

The band challenged the rejection as a violation of free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, winning at the appeals court level before the government appealed to the high court. After years of protesting and asking the team's owners to change the name, the activists began targeting the trademark protections in 1992, under the view that the anti-disparagement clause provided a leverage point against the nickname. The football team had tried to convince the Supreme Court to hear their case instead of The Slants but they were denied.

In his opinion for the court, Justice Samuel Alito rejected arguments that trademarks are government speech, not private speech. If the U.S. Court of Appeals uses this case as precedent, it seems likely the team will prevail on appeal.

"The government defends free speech around the world because it knows when free speech is threatened, religious minorities suffer", said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at Becket, a non-profit religious liberty law firm that says it has teamed with the government in the past to fight laws banning insulting or defaming religious speech.

The decision was not made on the merits of "Redskins" - it was about a band with Asian-American members called "The Slants" - but the ruling negates the trademark office's ruling on the Redskins case.

Slants founder and bass player Simon Shiao Tam says his band's name was created to reclaim a term that has been an anti-Asian slur.

2014: A number of news agencies, including the Washington Post, announce they will stop using "Redskins".

As NPR's Nina Totenberg has reported, "the trademark office has denied registration to a group calling itself "Abort the Republicans", and another called "Democrats Shouldn't Breed". All eight Justices joined in part of the decision, with four offering a concurring opinion on part of it. It's the linchpin of constitutional free speech, and Monday's decision extended that idea to trademarks. 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. "And I would have thought that that was a fairly classic case of viewpoint discrimination". He says he picked his band's moniker in an effort to reclaim a stereotype. "For reasons like these, the court's cases have long prohibited the government from justifying a First Amendment burden by pointing to the offensiveness of the speech to be suppressed". The franchise's attorney, Robert Raskopf, was present at the Supreme Court during oral arguments in January. "If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social 'volatility, ' free speech would be endangered".

Hopefully, this ruling will make everything simpler, but it also allows for the possibility of a great deal of hurtful trademarks. With the Supreme Court ruling, it seems the Redskins' stance about its name gets even stronger.

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