Right Hooks

SCOTUS Rules in Favor of Free Speech

Court rules that the government can't deny trademark rights based on what it deems to be disparaging and offensive.

Thomas Gallatin · Jun. 20, 2017

The Supreme Court ruled in an unanimous 8-0 decision Monday to strike down the Patent and Trademark Office’s denial of trademark for an offensive band name. The case in question was brought by the Asian-American band The Slants, who had been denied a trademark on the basis that their name was deemed disparaging and offensive. The government argued that trademarks did not fall under First Amendment protections of free speech because they weren’t private speech — in fact, that a trademark is government sanctioned speech. Therefore, the government argued, when the government reviews trademark applications it is free to deny granting them based on what it deems offensive or disparaging.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court correctly saw the government’s contorted rationale for what it was — a justification to deny freedom of speech. Justice Samuel Alito stated, “We have said time and again that ‘the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.’” He continued, “We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”

Not only is the Supreme Court’s ruling good news for The Slants, but it holds positive implications for the National Football League’s Washington Redskins. In 2014, the Patent and Trademark Office canceled the trademark on the team’s name because it deemed “Redskins” to be “disparaging” to Native Americans. Lost on the social justice warrior yahoos is that no one names their team something they find disparaging. The Redskins’ appeal is currently stuck in the Fourth Circuit Court, but this ruling should inform the lower court’s decision.

Americans should rejoice over the fact that freedom of speech has been protected from those who would seek to prevent it, no matter how “noble” their cause may have been. And this should be a reminder that there will always be those who will seek through the power of government to silence the speech of those with whom they find offense or disagreement.

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