Constitution Daily

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Podcast: Offensive speech and trademarks at the Supreme Court

January 19, 2017 by NCC Staff


The Slants (credit: Gage Skidmore)

On January 18, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in one of the most interesting cases of the year, Lee v. Tam.


In 2006, Simon Tam formed a rock band called “The Slants” in order to bring attention to discrimination against Asian Americans. But in 2011, when he applied for a trademark—a word, name, or symbol used to identify a good and to indicate its source—he was denied.


The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, headed by director Michelle Lee, said the band name violates the Lanham Act, which bars the government from approving trademarks that contain “matter which may disparage … persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”


Is this portion of the law a violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment?


Joining We the People to discuss the issues and best arguments in this case are leading experts in constitutional law and intellectual property.


Deborah Gerhardt is associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, where she teaches copyright and trademark law.


Ilya Shapiro is senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review. He is also a member of the Constitution Center’s Coalition of Freedom Advisory Board.


Rebecca Tushnet is currently a professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center, and the soon-to-be inaugural Frank Stanton Professor of First Amendment Law at Harvard Law School.


This show was engineered by Kevin Kilbourne and produced by Nicandro Iannacci. Research was provided by Lana Ulrich. The host of We the People is Jeffrey Rosen.


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