Nick Wass/Associated Press

The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Asian-American rock band that was denied a trademark in a case that could impact the Washington Redskins. 

By Scooby Axson
June 19, 2017

The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Asian-American rock band that was denied a trademark on the grounds that it disparages Asians, stating that federal government’s ban on offensive trademark registrations violates the First Amendment.

The band, called the Slants, argued that the name doesn't fall under the disparagement provision. The Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit against the United States Trademark and Patent Office, which sought to prevent the band from trademarking their name.

The case also impacts the Washington Redskins, who had been in a dispute with the Trademark Office over allegations that the team's name was disparaging toward Native Americans. 

"We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion. "It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend."

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the Redskins trademark case in October, denying the petition for review before a lower court had a chance to rule on the matter.

In June 2014, the United States Patent and Trademark Office canceled six federal trademark registrations for the Redskins, saying the nickname is “disparaging to Native Americans” and cannot be trademarked under federal law that prohibits trademark protection on offensive or disparaging language.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has repeatedly said that he will not change the nickname despite the opposition.

"The team is thrilled with today's unanimous decision as it 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," Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said. 

The original lawsuit about the Redskins nickname was brought by plaintiff Amanda Blackhorse, who sued the team and claimed that the name “Redskins” disparaged Native Americans. She said the nickname is a racist slur that never should have been trademarked in the first place. Washington has filed for trademarks on "Redskins" four times since 1967.

The team has used the "Redskins" name since 1932.

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