June 21, 2017
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 decided on June 19, 2017. Between the hearing of arguments and announcement of the decision, the name of the case changed to Matal v. Tam. Street Law's case materials are available on the SCOTUS in the Classroom program page.
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!
(Reproduced with permission)
Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers
High School Law Course
SCOTUS in the Classroom
Teaching for Civic Engagement