Asian-American band The Slants won a landmark Supreme Court ruling Monday knocking down the government’s ban on disparaging trademarks.
The band’s name refers to a stereotype about the shape of Asian people’s eyes, and the band’s music addresses racism.
The 8-0 ruling likely clears the way for the Redskins football team to retain trademarks contested under that ban. But Simon Tam, the band’s founder and namesake of Matal v. Tam, says the NFL team should change its name anyhow.
“Just because something is permissible, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing,” Tam told U.S. News after his band’s victory. “I think it’s their social responsibility to do that.’
Tam points to objections from American Indians who say the term is a racial slur. But he sees more speech, rather than government censorship, as the proper path forward.
“In a democracy, the cure for hate speech isn’t censorship,” Tam says. “If you only silence other people, they will grow in resentment and there will be severe backlash — no one builds a better society by shutting others up.”
Tam says he doubts the current Redskins leadership will listen, but adds “we have seen a lot of surprises in the last decade.
Justice Samuel Alito, striking down the disparaging trademark ban, wrote for the majority: “If affixing the commercial label permits the suppression of any speech that may lead to political or social ‘volatility,’ free speech would be endangered.”
Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas wrote concurring opinions.
“A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all,” Kennedy wrote.
Though the fate of the Redskins attracted significant attention to the case, Tam viewed the fight as an avenue to counter, rather than enable, racism.
“I’m so excited that we helped show that marginalized communities have the right to decide for themselves what is appropriate and that we don’t need some government attorney deciding on our behalf,” he says. – Supreme Court
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