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Government can't block Washington Redskins' controversial nickname

20 June 2017

As Ars Technica notes, the ruling is also relevant to the high-profile case involving the NFL's Washington Redskins, who were in danger of losing their highly offensive trademark but are now likely to be able to retain it under the decision. According to ABC News, the court ruled that a 71-year-old law that barred disparaging terms from obtaining a trademark violates free speech rights. In 2014, the Patent Office revoked the Redskins' trademark after it was found to be offensive to Native Americans.

A district court in Virginia upheld the cancellation in 2015, and so the team appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which put the case aside while The Slants case-officially Matal v. Tam-was considered by the Supreme Court. While he did state in his opinion that the government "has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend", he did so by definitely stating that these cases do not apply to what is a narrow application.

The Slants won support during their court fight from both liberal and conservative groups, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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"It could be our slant on life, of what it's like to be Asian-Americans, our perspective". The four more "conservative" justices, led by Justice Alito, explained why trademarks don't constitute a subsidy or other type of government program (within which the government can regulate speech), and that the "disparagement clause" doesn't even survive the more deferential scrutiny that courts give "commercial" speech.

Tam has said he chose to call the band The Slants to reclaim a term some consider a derogatory reference to Asian people's eyes, and wear it as a "badge of pride". "And despite the fact that the members of the Slants are themselves part of the "affected group" in question, the [Patent and Trademark Office] found the name too offensive for a registered trademark", wrote ACLU senior staff attorney Lee Rowland.

"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", he wrote on Facebook.

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This win will have a huge impact on the case the against the Redskins.

After a federal court agreed with Tam and his band, the Patent and Trademark Office sued to avoid being compelled to register its name as a trademark. The court decided the ban on registering "scandalous, immoral, or disparaging remarks" violated the First Amendment. The unanimous opinion the court delivered Monday is expected to set a positive precedent for the Redskins.

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