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Winter SCOTUS in the Classroom Case: Lee v. Tam

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Winter SCOTUS in the Classroom Case: Lee v. Tam

Street Law’s first SCOTUS in the Classroom Case of 2017 is Lee v. Tam!

As SCOTUSblog reported, “Lee v. Tam brings the world of rock music to the often quiet court.” It also implicates issues of intellectual property, racial slurs, and the First Amendment, and could have significant consequences for the NFL team in Washington, DC. In this case, a band called The Slants applied for a trademark for their name. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refused, explaining that the government does not issue trademarks for “disparaging” terms, and the band’s name disparages Asian Americans. The band appealed this decision, arguing that that decision violated their First Amendment rights. The federal government argued that the USPTO must retain the right to refuse to register racial epithets. The Supreme Court will decide whether the federal law that gives the USPTO the power to refuse to register disparaging trademarks violates the First Amendment. The USPTO cancelled the Washington NFL team’s trademark on the same grounds earlier this year, so that organization will be watching this case closely.

This case provides an engaging and interesting forum for discussing the ever-present tension between free speech rights and offensive content. Students will be able to explore key First Amendment concepts and grapple with issues of government endorsement or censorship of speech.

The case was argued on January 18, 2017, and Street Law's case materials are available now on the SCOTUS in the Classroom program page. Teachers and students are encouraged to hold moot courts of the case and follow discussion and analysis in the news and listen to or read a transcript of the actual oral arguments at the Court. 

About SCOTUS in the Classroom: Each year, Street Law selects a few of the most classroom-relevant, student-friendly cases being argued in the U.S. Supreme Court and provides teachers with everything they need to conduct moot courts of each. Past cases are always available on our website!

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Topic: Civic & Law-Related Education

Topic: U.S. Supreme Court