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In Major Free Speech Victory, SCOTUS Rules for 'The Slants' and Strikes Down Federal Trademark Restriction

"Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend."

Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in favor of the Asian-American dance-rock band The Slants, holding that the First Amendment protects the rights of the band's members to register a trademark in their band's "offensive" name.

At issue in Matal v. Tam was a federal law prohibiting the registration of any trademark that may "disparage...or bring...into contemp[t] or disrepute" any "persons, living or dead." The Patent and Trademark Office cited this provision in 2011 when it refused to register a trademark in the name of The Slants, thereby denying the band the same protections that federal law extends to countless other musical acts. Justice Samuel Alito led the Court in striking down the censorious rule. "We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment," Alito wrote. "It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend."

Justice Alito demonstrated little patience for the federal government's position. The government's arguments, Alito observed, boiled down to this: "The Government has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend." As Alito noted in response, "that idea strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express 'the thought that we hate.'"

In this case, there was nothing hateful about the band name. As Slants bassist Simon Tam told Reason.tv's Meredith Bragg, the whole point of the band's provocative name was to challenge anti-Asian stereotypes. "For me, this whole fight has not been just about the band name and our right to access the trademark registration," Tam said. "When I found out what the government was doing and how they were doing it, how they were using it to suppress speech and how they were trying to take rights away from my own community, I decided that was not right. So all of a sudden it became about principle. When I believe they are violating the values of our country and violating my own values, I decided that had to be stopped, no matter the cost."

Today Tam prevailed in his fight for principle. Thanks to his efforts, the First Amendment stands on stronger footing.

Watch Reason.tv's interview with Slants' bassist Simon Tam below.

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  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    *squints*

    Excellent!

  • Quixote||

    The inappropriate name they chose clearly poses a danger to public order, but at least they didn't express themselves under the "name" of a distinguished academic department chairman. Surely no one here would dare to defend the "First Amendment dissent" of a single, isolated judge in our nation's leading criminal "satire" case? See the documentation at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • Ranter||

    As a white dude, am I allowed to wear one of their shirts in public?

    Would that be a microagression or is that cultural appropriation?

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Don't go to Evergreen, man.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yup. Don't go to Evergreen...ever...for any reason.

    Its like a whole college of mental midgets.

  • Zeb||

    That one guy seems pretty cool.

  • Tionico||

    there ARE exceptions.... a few of us over the years. And I even knew and worked with two instructors who were solid conservatives, and unabashedly taught according to their own values. Their reading lists included writers like James Madison, THomas Jefferson, Thomas Sowell, Ludwig von Mises, Friederich Hayek, Thomas Paine.... I derived great enjoyment in watching the coddled liberal brats squirm, bluster, protest, act confused, try and sidetrack (rebuffed at every turn by this prof......)

    Were I still a student there, I'd not hesitate to wear one of their shirts.....

    funny thing, the crapeteria there serves some decidedly "asian" style dishes, rather far from authentic, sort of like a Taco John's rendering of a burrito... yet no one is yelling to shut them down for "cultural appropriation".

    Looney......

  • BYODB||

    Wow, that's pretty good Alito. Pretty good indeed. What is the opposite of a nut punch? Don't answer that.

  • Crusty Juggler - Elite||

    What is the opposite of a nut punch?

    A warm mouth gingerly caressing the heavy testicles of freedom?

  • Crusty Juggler - Elite||

    What is the opposite of a nut punch?

    A moist vagina eagerly accepting the tumescent phallus of freedom?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    How about both at the same time?

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    What, some kind of creature with a mouth right next to its vagina?

  • prolefeed||

    Two partners.

    Though the fact that your go to was to imagine sex with a hideously deformed mutant was ... telling.

  • Cynical Asshole||

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Vagina dentata?

  • SQRLSY One||

    Physician's fancy term for specialized operation = "vaginopseudodentectomy", which = the semi-surgical removal of false teeth from a vagina... Most often performed on senior patients.

    Did y'all know THAT!?!??! Well, now ye know!

  • Dan S.||

    A nut punch is a drink made by blending almond or cashew milk with fruit juice, or perhaps with rum. Isn't it?

  • Arcxjo||

    That sounds delightful. Can I have TWO nut punches, please?

  • cgr2727||

    Better trademark that, quick, before they start serving them on the lido deck aboard the next Reason freedom cruise.

  • Domestic Dissident||

    Sorry all you Obama scumbags in the government/media complex: free speech is for all of us, and not just you cretins only.

    It's always wonderful to see normal Americans win and you lose.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    What would this place be without Simple Mikey's outbursts? Besides eleven points higher in average IQ and much less embarrassing to associate with libertarianism, that is.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Mikey, now you can trademark "cuckaschmuck."

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Needs the whole phrase: "Cuckaschmuck Gay Boy."

  • Lester224||

    The vote was 8-0. All the libs voted with all the conservatives on this one.

  • Tionico||

    the ruling itself is encouraging, but seeing THOSE numbers is VERY encouraging. A bit too soon to consider this a faint ray of hope for the long haul, but..... I'll happily take it since it was handed us.

    NOW for the lawsuit to recover damages from NOT being allowed to use their chosen name.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    ...which should give everybody pause. It's a bad ruling. All of the justices are ultimately authoritarians, so it's no huge surprise it was unanimous.

  • tommhan||

    Yes those idiots want to turn us into Europe where "hate" speech can get you in legal trouble. The problem with all this is we know who gets to define hate speech.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Beautiful. Congrats to these celestials, and nice to have a fresh SC opinion that unequivocally states there is no 'hate speech exception.'

  • cgr2727||

    This'll give the progtards something new to scream about "repealing"; I'm tired of hearing about Citizens United, as if you can repeal a SC opinion, or write a law that wouldn't be immediately challenged and overturned on the original principle.

  • Tionico||

    CU are mostly going after small towns with some flavour of "religious expression" and claiming First Ammendment Establishment Clause violations. These towns fold almost immediately, fearing financial devastation from a long battle they've no stomach for.

    The real travesty is that CU bring these fraudulent claims, often with some "claimant" with a long history of being sue happy, but they fail to have READ that pesky First Ammendment, which plainly states CONGRESS shall make no law establising a religion...... so, in TwoBits Ville Oklahoma, which happens to have what resembles a cross on their city courthouse or something, who ever remembers that they put that cross there a hundred years ago (which has bothered NO ONE since then) in direct response to a law that CONGRESS have made? No one? Well, until CU can PROVE that cross is there because of some law Congress have made, they've got no violation and no case. Yet they get off with this thievery all the time.

  • Crusty Juggler - Elite||

    Justice Alito demonstrated little patience for the federal government's position. The government's arguments, Alito observed, boiled down to this: "The Government has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend." As Alito noted in response, "that idea strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express 'the thought that we hate.'"

    Problematic, anyone?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Proof that the first amendment is racist. QED.

  • albo||

    Revenge of the Dead White Males.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Jerry Garcia? Wasn't he in a different band?

  • ||

    My initial response is thAt this is a warning shot at sjw's.

  • cgr2727||

    Warning shots don't work on SJW's. Gotta aim for the center of mass.

  • Zeb||

    Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful

    To be sure. Robby Soave is giving lessons to the Supreme Court now?

  • Hank Ferrous||

    Boom, 8 to motherfucking 0. In your face, socjus.

  • Arcxjo||

    So SCOTUS needs a superdelegate or 2.

  • Crusty Juggler - Elite||

    Thanks to his efforts, the First Amendment stands on stronger footing.

    Yet another chink on the SJW armor.

  • Roger Wilco||

    I see what you did there...

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Yet another chink on the SJW armor.

    *SMH*

    *Jap slaps Crusty upside the head*

  • Fk_Censorship||

    ROR

  • Tionico||

    OUCH!!!! "chink" in the armour.... fired at high velocity. With no concealed carry permit.

  • Fk_Censorship||

    Good job, Reason, for not succumbing to yellow journalism and covering this properly.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Scalp 'em, swamp 'em
    We will take 'em big score
    Read 'em, weep 'em, touchdown
    We want heap more

    Fight on, Fight on,
    'Till you have won
    Sons of Wash-ing-ton.

    Rah!, Rah!, Rah!

    Hail to the Redskins
    Hail victory
    Braves on the warpath,
    Fight for old Dixie!

  • Alan Vanneman||

    For old DC, you toothless hillbilly.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You don't know what you're talking about.

  • Ken Shultz||

  • Brubaker||

    I see it, but I call BS. From Wikipedia:

    The song's original first stanza is often mistakenly thought to have ended with the line "Fight for old Dixie", but in fact this line was only used between 1959 and 1961, as a glance at contemporary game day programs will verify. Each of these programs printed the lyrics, and "Old D.C." can be seen in all years except 1959 through 1961. This phrase then returned to "Fight for ol' D.C.!"
  • albo||

    It kinda nullifies a major plot point of this seasons "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I don't know what that has to do with Titus having possibly eaten Dionne Warwick.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Slants bassist Simon Tam

    Does he have sister named River?

  • albo||

    This is even more good news because it proves that bass players CAN be good for something.

  • albo||

    More Alito smack:

    "It is thus far-fetched to suggest that the content of a registered mark is government speech, especially given the fact that if trademarks become government speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently."

  • ||

    Congrats to The Slants!

    Don't fuck with the 1A!

  • JFree||

    SC also took on a gerrymandering case that is explicitly about whether political parties themselves are basically a protected class.

    I have no doubt that the SC will rule the wrong way on this. But hey, at least they're saying there's a chance.

  • Curtisls701||

    Two things. I very much appreciate Simon Tam's levelheaded approach to this, along with his persistence. The second thing is that it would have been much cooler for Reason to use some of the group's music for the intro and outro.

  • Hank Phillips||

    A pattern is emerging. The LP ticket of Hospers + Nathan gets an electoral vote in December 1972. A month later the Court makes the LP plank on abortion the Roe v. Wade decision. Last year the deadhead busted for acid and railroaded under the prison for decades to please mandatory minimums lawmakers turns up in Reason, and is soon given some relief by the outgoing President. Then these plucky musicians pipe up and their situation gets airtime on Reason... and here again the Suprema Corte credits the libertarian argument. It's almost as if the law-changing clout of Libertarian spoiler votes were a powerful force for reforming bad laws. So if voting Libertarian accomplishes these things without putting new politicians on the payroll, isn't that a lot like a victory for the people casting the votes? Isn't that winning?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The Supreme Court accidentally stumbling into reason every so often doesn't count as influence.

  • GroundTruth||

    Wow, two unanimous, pro-liberty decisions in one day! Time to celebrate!

  • Cynical Asshole||

    It almost makes me wonder if maybe I've slipped into an alternate reality that isn't some kind of bizarro world clusterfuck.

  • GroundTruth||

    No, not yet. We can celebrate that the Constitution's emergency break held these times, but it's still a steeply pitched hill down to Hell, and the long term prognosis remains poor.

  • Arcxjo||

    If someone wanted to support these patriots, what would be a good album to start with?

  • Rhywun||

    I don't think they're very good but knock yourself out.

  • Number 2||

    This also means that the Washington Redskins get their trademark protection back.

  • GroundTruth||

    Nice! Two for the price of one! And that one will really piss of the PC crowd!

  • Juice||

    But doesn't that mean that South Park can no longer air (or stream) the episode where they use the logo?

  • Rhywun||

    Trump's court SMDH

  • Rich||

    +1 "slippery slope"

  • loveconstitution1789||

    +1 This case "zipped" right by the PC crowd.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: In Major Free Speech Victory, SCOTUS Rules for 'The Slants' and Strikes Down Federal Trademark Restriction
    "Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend."

    This is a great victory for free speech, shoving a dagger into the heart of political correctness.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Yeah, the SCOTUS issued a few surprising decisions today supporting the Constitution. What is going on over there at the Judicial Branch?

    Maybe Gorsuch attending the new case meetings reminded the other justices how their jobs are to force the other branches to follow the Constitution.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Yeah. I'm glad it's no longer illegal to call your band the Slants or your team the Redskins. It was a huge affront to free speech when they fined and imprisoned all those people who used those words.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this just an expansion of government control of speech? If the government doesn't give "the slants" or "the Redskins" trademark to *anyone*, then *everyone* can use it.

    But once you trademark or copyright it, then you have the government stepping in to say "you can't say that (without paying that guy first)". It's not free speech, it's protectionism.

    Call this a win if you want, but it's *not* a win for free speech.

  • Sevo||

    EscherEnigma|6.19.17 @ 1:44PM|#
    "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this just an expansion of government control of speech? If the government doesn't give "the slants" or "the Redskins" trademark to *anyone*, then *everyone* can use it."

    You're wrong, and don't bother with more bafflegab.

  • Juice||

    Ok, they didn't abolish intellectual property, but this is still a ratchet notch in the right direction.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Come on, juice. You had it right the first time. This is a bad ruling and it has nothing to do with the delicate flowers who might be offended by the phrase, and everything to do with the state exerting control over speech and property rights. It is now ILLEGAL for you to make a shirt celebrating the "Slants" or "Redskins" and to share it with someone else in a free act of commerce.

    Very, very significant blow against free speech and property rights.

  • MarkLastname||

    So they refused to uphold discriminatory denial of trademark based on content of the trademark.

    Consider an analogy: I want the state out of marriage, in licensing and all else. Should I conclude then that expansion of state-recognized marriage to include homosexual marriage is a bad thing and a loss for individual freedom from the state?

  • Juice||

    "Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend."

    Uh. Wow.

    I'm really glad they said that.

    I wish it had been more like "Speech may not be banned," but I'll take it.

  • m.EK||

    Sadly, the government, in this case the "supreme court" seems to think that the 1st Amendment grants We The People "rights". It does not. What it really does is tell the federal government, their employees, and contractors what the can NOT legislate, decree, or "rule" on.
    This "ruling" is backwards in that it presumes the courts legitimate authority to make a ruling defining or "interpreting" the first Amendment. Simpler would have been the acknowledgement that the government has no authority to deal with this and that it is a "legal" issue between affected party's.
    Expect a court of LAW to decide if anyone is harmed by these names or labels.
    First thing to happen in that case would be for the defense to ask, what is Law? How do we define Law?
    My suggestion is Maybury's two rules,,, something akin to "do all you have agreed to do and do not encroach on other persons or their property. Hmm,,, how do we define PERSON? What is Property? legally, how are these defined? Then all this nonsense could be cleared up within LAW and leave the politics to the political hacks and attorneys.

  • Mrs. Premise||

    Well now, the result of last week's competition when we asked you to find a derogatory term for the Belgians. Well, the response was enormous and we took quite a long time sorting out the winners.
    There were some very clever entries. Mrs Hatred of Leicester said 'let's not call them anything, let's just ignore them' (applause starts vigorously, but he holds his hands up for silence)
    and a Mr St John of Huntingdon said he couldn't think of anything more derogatory than 'Belgians'. (cheers and applause; a girl in showgirl costume comes on and holds up placards through next bit)
    But in the end we settled on three choices:
    number three... the Sprouts, sent in by Mrs Vicious of Hastings... very nice ;
    number two... the Phlegms from Mrs Childmolester of Worthing;
    but the winner was undoubtedly from Mrs No-Supper-For-You from Norwood in Lancashire... Miserable Fat Belgian Bastards.

  • Sevo||

    Posted by Mrs. Thunder-butt?

  • p3orion||

    Redskins management, check your voicemail...

  • KerryW||

    At issue in Matal v. Tam was a federal law prohibiting the registration of any trademark that may "disparage...or bring...into contemp[t] or disrepute" any "persons, living or dead."

    So the Dead Kennedys are OK, too, I guess.

    I'm thinking that if the DKs had started 30 years later, they would have been a part of this lawsuit also, because in the current climate the Trademark Office would have denied their name as well. There was some controversy back when they started, but the First Amendment was held in higher regard.

  • tommhan||

    Really good to have free speech reaffirmed.

  • TDHawkes||

    The great thing about free speech is that you can instantly evaluate the mental and emotional capacity of the speaker.

  • Tionico||

    well, this is a rather interestng slant on trademark law. Funny thing, the only thing in their band photo that is on a slant is their heads.... each one tilted to a slightly different slant. Any of them could havebeen held vertically, or slanted to some other angle. And any other band could or already has posed with their necks to the same slants as these folks.

    WHY are our FedGov meddling with such childish bits of insanity? Since WHEN is their assigned job to wart about who might get offended at what? OR to "protect" any given class, real or imaginary? How many of our tax dollars did they waste fighting this insanity? Seems the Nanny bent (or should that be "slant"?) is a bit overactive......

  • Sevo||

    What the fuck are you one about?

  • Bruce 6225||

    For this to be an issue in the States, nearly blows my mind. Of course the left will work to end all free speech, hard as it can. And there are many collectivist in the Republican party as well. Still, it's FREE SPEECH! Fewer seem to get it these days.

  • kleptowit||

    How did the band NWA (niggers with attitude) get past that ban?

  • Dillinger||

    6-4 Impalas and gats?

  • frankania||

    You can notice a trend of all "racial or cultural groups" people; some of them are truly ashamed of being what they are. If I am a "slant" and proud to be one, then joke about slants all you want. If I am ashamed, then it is an insult!
    I graduated from a central Louisiana high school, and was proud to be called a "cajun" (corruption of the word Acadian--french), not ashamed of it.
    I live in Mexico now, and am a" Gringo", and proud of it. Relax, people, enjoy life and stop being snowflakes.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    This is a major loss for libertarianism. Every time the state affirms that someone can claim exclusive ownership of a phrase, effectively restricting the property rights of others to freely use that word or phrase, property rights and free association have suffered a direct attack. The Slants should be free to call themselves the Slants and market their brand, but they should not be able to restrict others from also calling themselves the Slants and marketing their own brand. The other potential effect of this ruling is that sports teams like the Redskins can claim exclusive use of their name, which means if you make a sweatshirt that says "Washington Redskins" on it and sell it to people, you have a strong chance of finding yourself in a cage.

  • IMissLiberty||

    I disagree that this is a major loss for libertarianism. On the whole, it's a win. It might be better if "infringements" were fought in court on a case by case basis instead of in advance with the USPTO. It would be more libertarian if there was a non-governmental registry, so people could see if a name was in use already and voluntarily avoid the problems caused by using a mark already in use. But, banning the government from rejecting names on anything other than duplication of a prior mark is a win--the government should not be determining anything based on personal taste.
    Third-world countries without something like a county recorder for real property rights remain third-world because there is no protection of property rights. It works the same way for intellectual property/product. If it isn't respected, the population can't use it to prosper.
    Trademarks, and other IP, are forms of property that are even more tangible than is the right to free speech. Real property, intellectual property, and intangible natural rights lie along the same line, and if you can't see how the right to a name is similar to the right to a bicycle, then how in the world can you defend the right to freedom?
    Exercising one's right to freedom requires an ability to respect the rights of others. All too often, people without this understanding commit piracy and fraud that harms not only the owners of the intellectual property, but also the consumers.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Your premise is wrong. Several libertarian scholars and economists have argued against the notion of "intellectual property" as a supporter of property rights, and others have even argued that it is a direct violation of property rights. In my view, state advocates with libertarian leanings sometimes support intellectual property, and all the violence, taxation, and central planning associated with it, because they reject the spontaneous order that has been demonstrated time and time again in laissez faire markets.

    But regardless of your stance on IP, the ruling itself clearly has absolutely nothing to do with free speech. It has everything to do with IP, which by its very definition, limits free association, free commerce, and in some cases, free speech. Sure, you can take the stance that limiting someone's ability to buy a Washington Redskins sweatshirt from an unapproved vendor (a mutual exchange of goods between consensual participants) somehow supports the rights of a third party (the trademark owner, who may or may not be the Redskins organization), but that has absolutely zero to do with free speech.

  • IMissLiberty||

    Does this mean there are some pro sports teams that can change their names back?

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    They always could. There's no law restricting what they can call themselves. They just want to be able to use the threats and violence of the state to be able to maximize their profits. The state was threatening to withhold this "service" because of the name.

    This was never about free speech. Nobody had limited anybody's speech. It was always about protectionism.

  • m.EK||

    Damon, the first Amendment tells the Federal Government what they can NOT legislate, decree, or "rule" on. The first 10 Amendments are not rules/"laws" for the citizenry or electorate. They are very clear and succinct statements on the LIMIT to the authority and autonomy of the Federal Government, their employees, and contractors.
    Make sure this is part and parcel of any and all "findings" that the so called "supreme court" utters. They are simply the third branch to the government and therefor subject to ALL limitations described in the first 10 Amendments and what the "enumerated powers" tell them to be their role in the government.
    This usurpation of Common Law legal system that has turned into criminal "law" based on the bullshit that the government creates has not made America great! Nor will it.

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