Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Free Speech at the Supreme Court; New York Times, June 19, 2017

Editorial Board, New York Times; Free Speech at the Supreme Court

"The Supreme Court reaffirmed core free-speech principles in two cases on Monday, both decided without dissent...

"The Patent and Trademark Office rejected the name under a provision in a 70-year-old federal law prohibiting the registration of trademarks that “disparage” any “persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols.”

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the law violates a “bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.” That’s the right call. The First Amendment bars the government from discriminating among speakers based on their viewpoints. In this case, the Trademark Office did that by blocking only registrations for trademarks it determined to have negative connotations. The free-speech clause doesn’t apply to the government’s own speech, but registered trademarks can’t be put in that category — otherwise the government would have to argue that it endorses each of the more than two million trademarks it has already registered.

The decision is likely to help the Washington Redskins, who lost their trademark protections in 2014 after years of complaints from Native American groups. At the time, this page supported the Trademark Office’s decision, and we still regard the Redskins name as offensive. Based on this case, however, we’ve since reconsidered our underlying position."

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