The case had nothing to do with the Washington Redskins specifically, or even Native American stereotypes and slurs, but the ruling could have a major impact on the NFL’s most polarizing team name. In a case involving an Asian-American band called called the Slants, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the government cannot refuse trademarks simply for having disparaging or offensive terms, citing infringement of free speech and First Amendment protection.
Here’s an excerpt of Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling from Monday, via USA Today:
“It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for a unanimous court. He rejected the government’s argument that protected trademarks become a form of government, rather than private, speech.
“If the federal registration of a trademark makes the mark government speech, the federal government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently,” Alito said. “It is saying many unseemly things. It is expressing contradictory views. It is unashamedly endorsing a vast array of commercial products and services. And it is providing Delphic advice to the consuming public.”
As you may have guessed, the ruling left the Redskins management overjoyed. From ESPN:
Redskins owner Dan Snyder said he was “thrilled” with the Supreme Court’s ruling, and team attorney Lisa Blatt praised the court’s decision.
“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,” Blatt said in a statement.
In 2014, the trademark office ruled the franchise could not trademark the mascot because the name offends Native Americans. A Washington Post poll found that 90 percent of Native Americans do not find Redskins offensive, but of course, there is a very strong contingent who feel the opposite way. The issue has been making headlines for years, even taking center stage at one point during the 2016 presidential campaigns and making it onto an episode of South Park.
The Redskins should now get their trademark revalidated. And with the court ruling that trademarks are private speech rather than public, that will boost Snyder’s case to keep the team name however long he pleases.