The Supreme Court Rocks Out With the Slants

The Supreme Court just ruled that the government cannot deny trademarks it dislikes. We talked to the band that started it all.

Two months ago I drove up to Frederick, Maryland to see Simon Tam and his all-Asian American dance-rock band called the Slants play at Flying Dog Brewery to an audience of mostly (non-Asian) libertarians, including Flying Dog CEO and Ayn Rand super-fan Jim Caruso. (That story appeared in our latest magazine issue.) At the time, Tam was the named plaintiff in a supreme court case against the government, which had denied Tam a trademark for his band’s name, citing its “derogatory” connotation. In essence, the band name, an ironic commentary on racism, was itself deemed racist.

Today, the court ruled that the government violated Tam’s first amendment rights.

“After an excruciating legal battle that has spanned nearly eight years, we’re beyond humbled and thrilled to have won this case at the Supreme Court. 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,” the Slants said in a statement.

I reached out to Tam and he said his band is back in the studio and will go on another tour this late summer. No word yet on how soon the long-awaited trademark will come through.

When I spoke to Jim Caruso in April he hinted at the possibility of throwing a celebration and re-inviting the Slants if they won their case. I called him up today and he was thrilled by their victory. “This case is the perfect example of bureaucrats, based on their personal opinions and whims, violating the free speech rights of citizens. It’s a major victory for free speech and individual liberty. [The Slants] are heroes to us. We would be honored to have them back at the brewery.”

While the legal outcome should hearten anyone who believes in freedom of expression, it will likely have acrimonious political consequences; the same provision that denied the Slants’s trademark also denied the Washington Redskins’s. But Dan Snyder’s chinless grin remains an eminently affordable price for free expression.

This post was updated at 12:42 p.m.

Joshua Alvarez

Joshua Alvarez is an associate editor at Washington Monthly.