September 29, 2016

Supreme Court to hear The Slants' case

By Caleb R. Trotter Attorney

This morning, the United States Supreme Court issued the first orders from its September 26th long conference. Among the cases the Court agreed to hear is Michelle K. Lee v. Simon S. Tam. We have previously discussed Mr. Tam’s case here and here. Briefly, Mr. Tam is the frontman of the rock band, The Slants. The band, comprised of Asian-American members, chose the band’s name in order to bring awareness to discrimination against Asian-Americans and reclaim a derisive term. When Mr. Tam sought to register The Slants as a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, he was denied because the government claimed the Lanham Act’s Disparagement Clause precludes registration of the name. As shown by several examples in the briefing and lower court opinion, however, the government routinely picks and chooses which names and phrases it considers to be “disparaging” without rhyme or reason.

Also of note, today’s orders list makes no mention of the request by the Washington Redskins’ football team to consolidate their case currently pending in the 4th Circuit that addresses the same legal issue, so it appears the Court will only hear Mr. Tam’s case. While there is no date set for oral argument yet, PLF looks forward to supporting Mr. Tam in his quest to register The Slants and have the Disparagement Clause declared unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

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