He unsuccessfully attempted to register the name with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because the agency said it disparages Asians. 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.
In their decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's opinion.
While defending the First Amendment's freedom of speech protection, the justices did not remove all discretion from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
"We have said time and time again that the 'public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers, '" Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said in the case of Matal vs Tam. The Lanham Act's disparagement clause placed an unconstitutional condition on those who consider the use of an edgy or taboo phrase to be part of their brand: either change your name or be denied the right to use it effectively.
A federal court initially sided with The Slants, and today the Supreme Court did so too, unanimously, in fact.
But the Federal Circuit, ruling on the Slants' case in December 2015, overturned that precedent, declaring that the rule penalized unpopular speech by denying the substantial benefits of a trademark registration.
The team's trademark registration was canceled in 2014 after decades of use.
"I am THRILLED!" he said in a statement Monday morning.
Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said in a statement that the team feels "vindicated" by the ruling.
The section of the law at issue bars the trademark office from registering a name that may "disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute". Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a separate opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. During the fight, we found the Trademark Office justifying the denial of rights to people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, and political views, simply because they disagreed with the message of these groups. As Justice Alito noted in the court's opinion on the case, Tam maintained that naming the band after a slur was an attempt from a member of a marginalized community to reclaim a derogatory phrase used to oppress and strip it of its power.
Tam's case pits supporters on one side who argue they are fighting for free speech rights, and opponents who warn a Slants victory will require government approval of all kinds of hateful racial slurs, including the N-word. And the idea that our market will be flooded by people who just want to register marks on a whim is ridiculous. people have to have an established business goal, pay the fees, go through the paperwork and have their information in public.