Despite mounting public pressure, vocal minority groups, and even a statement from former President Obama, the Washington Redskins have staunchly defended their name for decades. On June 19th, a Supreme Court ruling in a related case dealt a fatal blow to the trademark case brought by a Native American group against the football team. The ruling concerned the anti-disparagement clause of federal trademark law, which allowed the Trademark Office to deny trademarks based on how offensive the trademark was.
The Supreme Court in Matal v. Tam, 582 U.S. ___ (2017) declared the anti-disparagement clause to be unconstitutional after an Asian-American rock band called The Slants were denied a trademark over the offensive nature of their name. The band argued to the Court that allowing the government to deny trademark protection to groups it considered offensive was tantamount to censorship and flagrantly flew in the face of the First Amendment, and the Court agreed. After the Court’s ruling on the 19th, the Trademark Office may not deny trademark protection based solely on whether or not the trademarked name is offensive.
The Native American groups fighting the Redskins, however, had based their attack on the Redskins’ trademark almost entirely on the anti-disparagement clause. They were forced to admit defeat after the Court’s ruling left them without a legal leg to stand on. Shortly thereafter the case against the Redskins was dropped, and now the team does not face any legal challenges to the use of its name.