Washington Redskins Helmet
Keith Allison under Creative Commons license

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court had a very busy day, accepting new cases and ruling on others, and one that has been in the news for years has finally come to an end. Matal v. Tam, the case dealing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceling the registration for the Asian-American band The Slants was affirmed as unconstitutional.

The USPTO long had a rule forbidding the registration of “disparaging” trademarks. While the actual party to the case who filed the initial legal action is Slants' founder Simon Tam, the case is best known for its implications on another entity: The NFL's Washington Redskins, whose trademarks were canceled three years ago.

“We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the opinion. “It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”

“After an excruciating legal battle that has spanned nearly eight years, we’re beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court,” The Slants said in a statement on their website. “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.”

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Redskins organization provided the following statement from company attorney Lisa Blatt:

“The Team is thrilled with today’s unanimous decision as it resolves the Redskins’ long-standing dispute with the government. 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.”

Also on Monday, the highest court in the land ruled in another First Amendment case, Packingham v. North Carolina, that registered sex offenders cannot be barred from social media sites, as they were under a North Carolina law. From the opinion:

The court also agreed to hear, for the first time, a case dealing with congressional redistricting/gerrymandering strictly on ideological grounds. Past cases have dealt with race-based gerrymandering.

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