A Rock Band Fights for Free Speech at the Supreme Court and Wins; SCOTUS Rules Part of Lanham Act Violates the First Amendment

This is a case about a rock band, a dubious and inflammatory stage name, and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).   It's also a matter of free speech, and the concept that speech - including offensive speech - is Constitutionally protected.  There are a lot of hot button issues in this case.  

The rock band?  The Oregon based, self styled "Chinatown dance rock" band The Slants

The background is this: in 2010, the band filed a trademark application with the USPTO to register the band's name.  The USPTO rejected the application.  The rationale for the rejection was that the band's name violated Section 1025(c) of the Lanham Act, which prohibits the registration of a trademark that “may disparage ... persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols."  

The vagueness of the statutory language quoted here opens the door for the federal government to make value judgments about viewpoints, which is known in constitutional law circles as viewpoint discrimination.  In other words, the Lanham Act as applied by the USPTO in this matter was viewpoint discrimination, which is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. 

Writing for the unanimous Court (technically an 8-0 decision, as this case was argued before Justice Gorsuch took his seat on the bench), Justice Alito wrote: 

The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied the application based on a provision of federal law prohibiting the registration of trademarks that may “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” 15 U. S. C. §1052(a). We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.

If the government tells you what to say, then it will start telling you what to think.  This cannot be tolerated, and from the standpoint of a civil libertarian, anti-disparagement laws should be removed from the books, through legislative amendment and strategic litigation. 

You can read the Court's opinion in the embedded document below: