June 19, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled today that a federal law banning trademark registration to names or brands that “disparage” others violates the First Amendment, and that therefore the federal government could not deny a registered trademark to the Asian-American rock band “The Slants” because the government deemed the name to be offensive.

The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a friend-of -the-court brief supporting the band’s case, in coalition with five Asian-American community and advocacy groups. ACLU attorney Lee Rowland had this reaction to today’s ruling:

“This is a major victory for the First Amendment, and establishes that the government cannot selectively grant trademarks based on its approval or disapproval of a speaker’s viewpoint. The Slants chose their name to reappropriate a racial slur used against their community, with the goal of deflating the word’s hurtful power. The government’s misguided effort to protect minorities from disparagement instead hurt members of that very community by hindering their right to compete in the marketplace of ideas. Fortunately, today’s opinion prevents the kind of absurd outcome that results when the government plays speech police.”

Today’s ruling is here:
https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/lee-v-tam-supreme-court-opinion

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