Can the government police speech it thinks is offensive, even when members of the group the government seeks to protect disclaim any offense? Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act allows the government to deny trademark registration to "disparaging" speech. On Wednesday, January 18, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Lee v. Tam, a case challenging the constitutionality of this statute.
In Lee, an Asian-American rock band called “The Slants” was denied trademark registration after the Patent and Trademark Office found the trademark disparaging to Asians. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision. But the en banc Federal Circuit—without being asked—decided to vacate that decision and consider whether § 2(a) violates the First Amendment. The full Federal Circuit ultimately reversed the panel decision. The federal government then asked the Supreme Court to weigh in.
Is the Court likely to affirm the Federal Circuit decision striking down the disparagement clause as violative of the First Amendment? And what will be the implications if it does? Megan Brown and Dwayne Sam of Wiley Rein LLP attended the oral arguments and offered their impressions and predictions during this Courthouse Steps Teleforum conference call.
- Ms. Megan L. Brown, Partner, Wiley Rein LLP
- Mr. Dwayne D. Sam, Associate, Wiley Rein LLP