Native Americans Say Supreme Court Endorsed Their Suit Against Redskins
The football team's name leads to lawsuit against Redskins' trademark
Native Americans suing to force the Washington Redskins to change their name say the Supreme Court indirectly endorsed their legal position by granting Texas a right to ban license plates displaying the Confederate flag.
The Supreme Court ruled in June 2015 that Texas' Confederate flag ban did not violate the First Amendment. Instead, it is a lawful means of avoiding the image of racism associated with the Confederacy.
A group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans said their free speech rights should allow them to put specialty license plate showing the Confederate flag on their vehicles, but Texas officials rejected the proposal.
Similarly, the Washington Redskins football team says their choice of a name is a matter of their First Amendment free speech rights.
Native Americans filed a lawsuit in 2014 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria to get the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke the team's trademark. The Native Americans say the name and trademark are racist.
Jeffrey Lopez, attorney for the Native Americans, said the trademark implies the government supports the racism associated with the name Redskins.
The government issues the registration, and the government has its name all over it, Lopez said. But the trademark should never have been issued. The team has improperly benefited from the use of it.
The government grants trademarks under authority of the Lanham Act. However, the act forbids issuing trademarks for names that may disparage or bring people into contempt or disrepute.
Attorneys for the Redskins say their name honors Native Americans. Team owner Dan Snyder has refused to change the name.
Robert Raskopf, the Redskins' lead attorney, argued the Supreme Court ruling on Texas license plates touches on a different issue. Redskins is a brand name, similar to a Coca-Cola trademark, that does not raise issues of government endorsement, he said.
A Coke can is not a license plate, Raskopf said. This is pure private speech.
In addition, the football team could suffer severe and manifold damage if it loses its federal trademark, he said.
The judge said he would rule on whether the case should go to trial or be dismissed.