Oregon Rock Band Lands in the Supreme Court

A rock band from Portland, Oregon had landed itself in the Supreme Court. “The Slants” is a band of Asian-Americans who named themselves a racial slur in an attempt to reappropriate the term, similar to how to the definition of the n-word has been redefined in a different context. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office rejected the band’s request for a trademark twice due to the Lanham Act, a law passed in 1946 which states if the request “[c]onsists of… matter which may disparage… persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute” then the Patent office cannot grant a trademark. However, “The Slants” sued, claiming this law is a violation of their First Amendment rights. This calls into question whether the law is legal under the freedom of speech clause in the First Amendment.

“The Slants” had a victory in the Federal Appeals Court where the judge ruled in the band’s favor, but now the Supreme Court has the final say, setting the precedent for trademarking and usage of racial slurs.

The outcome of this case could impact the Washington Redskins, the NFL football team from Washington D.C. In June of 2014, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, a tribunal within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, decided in a 2-1 ruling to cancel the team’s trademarks on the basis that it is “disparaging to Native Americans.”

Depending on the Supreme Court ruling, the Redskins trademark ruling could be held or overturned. The Supreme Court began hearing arguments on Oct. 3 and the case will last until June 2017, when the Court’s term ends.