We Constitutional Libertarians get very few “slam dunk” victories in the arena of ideas. Since most of our socio-political lines of demarcation revolve around settling disputes between Democrats or Republicans, it’s difficult for my little tribe to score a decisive win. But we got one today in the hall of the US Supreme Court.
The High Court today struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks, unanimously ruling in favor of an Asian-American rock band called the Slants. “Slants” is considered by some offensive to Asian-Americans. Never mind that this group of Asian-Americans simply wanted to transform a derisive term into a statement of pride. No…the 1936 law (which, like all laws was written with the BEST of intentions) allowed the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to deny the request on the grounds that it disparages Asians.
In his majority opinion today, Justice Samuel Alito wrote a phrase that should be carved into the sides of mountains from sea to shining sea.
”It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”
My only regret was that Antonin Scalia didn’t live long enough to lend his wonderful prose to this decision.
Today’s ruling has obvious repercussions for a much higher-profile trademark case. The Washington Redskins made similar arguments after the trademark office ruled in 2014 that their mascot name offends American Indians. They canceled the team’s trademark. A federal appeals court in Richmond put the team’s case on hold while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the Slants case.
“Redskins” is more than a nickname. It is a product. It is a commodity. It is valuable. It would be difficult to quantify how much the Redskins name, logo, and trademark are worth; but studies have conservatively estimated it at more than $100,000,000. This is personal property—personal property that is could be severely de-valued for the sake of the odious notion of “Political Correctness.” I could write MUCH more on the wisdom of changing names to appease people’s delicate sensibilities. I could go on for pages about why it would make no sense for the team to keep the mascot name if it truly were offense.
I am VERY bullish on issues of free speech and the free use of words. If you want to tell Dan Snyder to ditch the name, fine. If you want to protest outside of the Redskins’ stadium, fine. But I draw the line at getting the federal government involved. George Carlin put it best. We think in language. When we process thoughts, concepts and ideas; our brain utilizes language to make it happen. It is NOT a stretch to claim that if someone can control your speech, they can (by proxy) control your thoughts. I will ALWAYS oppose such efforts.
For the time being though…sing it with me!!
“Hail to the Redskins!
Braves on the Warpath!
Fight! For Old! DC!”