Asian-American rock band The Slants are now free to call themselves by the name often used as a racist term towards Asians after a the Supreme Court ruled in their favor 8-0.
The band’s frontman, Simon Tam, sued after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office kept the group from registering its name and rejected its appeal, citing the Lanham Act, which prohibits any trademark that could “disparage … or bring … into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead,” NPR reported.
The Patent and Trademark Office also filed a lawsuit, but the Supreme Court sided with The Slants, arguing that it violates the right of free speech.
“It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion for the court. “The Government has an interest in preventing speech expressing ideas that offend. And, as we have explained, that idea strikes at the heart of the First Amendment.”
The Slants wanted to reclaim what is often seen as a derogatory term to Asians.
“We grew up and the notion of having slanted eyes was always considered a negative thing,” Tam told NPR back in January. “Kids would pull their eyes back in a slant-eyed gesture to make fun of us. … I wanted to change it to something that was powerful, something that was considered beautiful or a point of pride instead.”
He added the group was “beyond humbled and thrilled” by the decision.
“This journey has always been much bigger than our band: it’s been about the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what’s best for ourselves,” Tam wrote on Facebook.
The ruling could also have implications for another trademark case involving the NFL’s Washington Redskins, the BBC reported.
In 2014, the Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team’s registrations after five Native Americans said that the name was offensive.
The decision is being reviewed by the trademark office, which is expected to provide new guidance for employees, a spokesman said.