Saturday, October 1, 2016

Supreme Court will take up the case of the Asian/American rock band's controversial monicker

The Slants
By Louis Chan

THE SUPREME COURT agreed on Thursdsay (Sept. 29) to take on the First Amendment case involving the Asian/American rock group, The Slants.

The Portland-based group, The Slants, tried to trademark their name in 2011, but the federal Patent and Trademark office turned them down on ground their name was offensive, even racist.

The group sued, and after several defeats, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the rejection violated the group’s first amendment rights. The PTO appealed and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

RELATED: The court takes a different slant on band's name
The Obama administration is urging the high court to overturn the appeals court ruling. The government says the law "simply reflects Congress' judgment that the federal government should not affirmatively promote the use of racial slurs and other disparaging terms by granting the benefits of registration."

The administration also argues that the law does not restrict speech because the band is still free to use the name even without trademark protection.

On the other hand, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have supported the Slants and the Redskins in their legal fights. The ACLU says the government can't withhold benefits just because it disagrees with the content of someone's speech.

"For us, the band name has always referred to our 'slant' on life as people of color, not the incorrect stereotype.," explained band spokesman Simon Tam. "We're social justice activists who have been fighting for equity for nearly a decade now. Unfortunately, the Trademark Office mischaracterized this work and presented our battle through the courts as opportunistic than for what it was: exposing their consistent oppression of minority voices."
The case is separate from a court case involving the team name for the NFL’s team in D.C. The PTO cancelled the Redskins trademark citing similar reasoning and the team is asking the Supreme Court to take up its case. The football team's case has not reached the judicial level  as the rock band's case and it is rare that the Supreme Court would agree to hear a case before it has gone through the appeal court system.

The band and the football team can continue using their preferred names even without trademark protection. But a trademark confers certain legal benefits, including the power to sue competitors that infringe the trademark.

Personally, (this is MY blog, after all) despite the band's reasonable explanation, I find the term offensive. Every time I hear the term, I think of all the times the term has been hurled at me, often with the gesture of pulling their eyes back, often with the accompanying chant, "Ching-chong, Chinaman." It still hurts. It is still offensive. I am sure I'm not the only Asian/American to have had this life-changing experience.
(Views from the Edge contributed to this report.)