Last year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) ruled that the Redskins name is disparaging to American Indians, and as a result weakened the team’s trademark protections that allow it to keep individuals from selling unlicensed team gear. The Redskins have appealed the ruling, and in January also filed a new lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of such bans on disparaging trademarks.
The ACLU filed a new amicus brief Friday (a third-party legal paper advocating for one side of a legal dispute) defending the Redskins and saying the loss of their trademark was dead wrong. In fact, the group argues, the entire federal law allowing regulation of “scandalous” or “disparaging” trademarks should be eliminated.
In a blog post announcing the new brief, the ACLU summarized its position by saying “You’re not wrong, you’re just an a**hole.” The group’s sentiment reflects earlier statements it has made, such as a 2013 denunciation of the Redskins nickname as “vile.”
Wrote ACLU staff attorney Esha Bhandari in the new post:
The Washington Redskins is a name that is offensive and perpetuates racism against Native Americans. Should it be changed? Yes. But should the government get to make that call? As we told a federal district court yesterday, the answer is no.
In the brief itself, the ACLU’s attorneys argue that regulating speech simply for being “disparaging” invites discriminatory regulations:
[When] regulation of speech rests on vague and subjective terms that provide no meaningful notice to speakers as to which speech the government will find acceptable, [they] risk—and in this case, ensure—inconsistent and discriminatory application.
Besides the trademark battle, the Redskins have faced rising political pressure, including from Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, to change their name. However, owner Dan Snyder has remained defiant thus far, insisting the name is not disparaging and that it won’t be changed as long as he is owner.
Incidentally, a paper published several years ago by historical linguist Ives Goddard made a strong case that “redskin,” while superficially offensive in origin, in fact originated among American Indians as a way to describe themselves in contrast to whites, and only later spread to European society.
This report, by Geoffrey Ingersoll, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.