WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would not take up an appeal by the Washington Redskins concerning the constitutionality of a federal law that directs the United States Patent and Trademark Office to refuse the registration of a trademark that disparages “persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols.”
Lawyers for the football team are fighting the cancellation of six of their registrations. They argue that a provision of the Lanham Act is unconstitutional in part because it violates the First Amendment.
Although the justices declined to take up the Redskins appeal, last Friday they announced they would take up a similar case involving an Asian-American rock band — called “the Slants” — that seeks to register its name. How the Court rules in that case could affect the Redskins.
The government defends the law arguing in briefs that “the Constitution does not require Congress to open the federal trademark registration system to racial epithets.”
According to the government, the sole effect of the law is that various benefits of federal registration would not be available for disparaging marks.
The court’s decision means that the case will continue in the lower court. It would have been unusual for the court to take up the Redskins appeal because the lower court has yet to rule on the issue.
Although the loss of a registration wouldn’t strip the team from being able to use the name, it would bar them from federal benefit protections including the right to exclusive nationwide use of the mark.