The Washington Redskins won at the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday without taking a case there.
A unanimous court ruled that the government violated the First Amendment rights of the members of an Asian band calling itself “The Slants” by denying the group trademark protection.
“The disparagement clause violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause,” Justice Alito explained in his Matal v. Tam opinion. “Contrary to the Government’s contention, trademarks are private, not government speech.”
The Washington Redskins offered an amicus curiae brief supporting The Slants. The brief contended that nothing “permits Congress to condition trademark registration on a mark owner’s refusal to change a name that the government finds odious.”
A division of the United States Patent and Trademark Office voted to cancel a half dozen “Redskins” trademarks in 2014 based on the premise that the team’s nickname—an offshoot of “Red Sox” from when the Boston Braves football team moved from Braves Field a mile or so away to Fenway Park in 1933 and became the Boston Redskins in homage to its landlord—violated a disparagement clause forbidding the registration of words and images that offend. Without trademark protections, the Redskins faced the prospect of legal pirating of their name and logos.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who once vowed in ALL-CAPS to never change the team’s name, again embraced uppercase in expressing himself.
“I am THRILLED,” he explained. “Hail to the Redskins!”