U.S. Supreme Court rules law barring offensive trademarks violates free speech

The Portland, Oregon-based band's leader, Simon Tam, said he picked the name to make fun of it and rob it of its negative impact.
By Jose Jefferies | Jun 21, 2017
The nation's highest court has ruled unanimously that a 1946 federal law banning disparaging trademarks violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of free speech.

The case involved an Asian-American dance band called the Slants, which had been denied a trademark because the government determined the name to be offensive to people of Asian heritage, according to a report by Reuters.

The Portland, Oregon-based band's leader, Simon Tam, said he picked the name to make fun of it and rob it of its negative impact.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the opinion for the Court.

"We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the 1st Amendment," said Alito. "It offends a bedrock 1st Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend."

Monday's decision makes a distinction between government speech and private speech. In another case two years ago, the high court ruled that the state of Texas could refuse a request for a license plate sporting a Confederate flag. But, Alito said, "trademarks are private, not government, speech."

In a statement posted to its website, the band expressed delight at the ruling.

"After an excruciating legal battle that has spanned nearly eight years, we're beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court," the statement said. "This journey has always been much bigger than our band: it's been about the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what's best for ourselves."

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