Asian-American Band Takes Fight Over Their ‘Racist’ Name All the Way to Supreme Court

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    Asian-American Band Takes Fight Over Their ‘Racist’ Name All the Way to Supreme Court

    The Slants, an Asian-American rock band, has been struggling to register a trademark for its name for several years. Since 2011, the Oregon-based group has been embroiled in a free-speech battle with the government, which refuses to let the band claim the trademark because “slant” is considered a racial slur.

    Per the Associated Press, the band is headed to the Supreme Court on Wednesday to present its case, as the judges weigh in on whether a law prohibiting disparaging trademarks violates their free speech rights. The verdict may also impact the Washington Redskins, who had their trademarks canceled last year after the government found that it was disparaging to Native Americans.

    Simon Tam, the founder of the Slants, says that the name was chosen not to offend, but to reclaim the term and engage Asian stereotypes.

    The band released a new song called “From the Heart” about the upcoming case, calling it an “open letter to the trademark office” about their continued fight for free speech.

    Four years after the US Patent and Trademark Office refused to register their name, they won their case in a federal appeals court, which declared that the law prohibiting offensive trademarks is unconstitutional. However, the Obama administration urged the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.

    The Justice Department argued that the law does not restrict free speech, but declines to associate the government with “racial epithets, religious insults and profanity as trademarks.”

    However, the government’s interpretation of the law is selective, at best. The hip-hop band N.W.A., which refers to the N-word, was successfully trademarked.

    The CATO Institute wrote an amicus brief summing up The Slants’ case for their free speech rights, which includes this hilarious, yet persuasive argument:

    We ask a simple question: Should the government get to decide what’s a slur? Do we really want PTO lawyers determining which messages are “disparaging” and which aren’t? For example, Cato’s brief was written by a cracker, a dago, and a frostback. Can we get away with saying that? It depends whom you ask. Is “water buffalo” a racial slur? What about “niggardly” or “tar baby”? Enormous controversies have raged over exactly these questions, yet the PTO thinks it can draw an objective line. And even if we could determine which words are actually “disparaging,” should the government really be putting its thumb on the scale to take such controversies out of the public square?

    A few days ago, the band launched a crowdfunding effort to help them to cover their travel costs. They note that their legal team has been fighting for them pro bono, but other fees have begun to take their toll on the band’s First Amendment fight.

    We are asking you to invest into our case. This is an opportunity to change a law that has been disproportionately affecting minorities for almost 70 years now, primarily small business owners and activists who believe in reclaiming identity. It is a chance to create culturally competent laws and build equity and justice in a very unjust legal system…a system that will likely be worse under a Trump presidency.

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