• Chinatown dance-rock band, The Slants. (Twitter: @ACLU )Source: Twitter: @ACLU
This is the story of how one American-Asian band set about challenging the US government to take back a racist slur as their own...and won.
Chloe Sargeant

20 Jun 2017 - 2:38 PM  UPDATED 20 Jun 2017 - 2:40 PM

'Chinatown dance-rock' band, The Slants, have today received a verdict from the US Supreme Court on whether a federal trademark law had violated their freedom of speech. The legal result, according to media reports, swung in their favour. 

The Slants, a four-piece band from Portland, initially chose their name as a way to reclaim a racial slur often delivered to Asian-Americans. 

In 2010, the band attempted to apply for a registered trademark of their name, in order to brand themselves and protect their merchandise from counterfeiters. 

The examiner from the Patents and Trademark Office (PTO) determined that the four members of the band were Asian-American, so therefore the use of the word 'slant' in their name was a racial slur. The band was denied their trademark under the 1946 Lanham Act - a federal law that permits the government to deny trademark requests if they are deemed to be "disparag[ing] or offensive".

Reclaiming power: What's in a name?

The Slants, made up of four Asian-American men, have told media they chose their name as a way to reclaim a offensive racial slur that is often directed at Asian people. 

Receiving support from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the band maintained that the name was simply reclaiming a weaponised term; that marginalised group of people should be entitled to “determine what’s best for ourselves.”

Around two years ago, they appealed the PTO's decision, and the ACLU assisted them with the oral argument: that the Lanham Act contains glaring contradictions to the First Amendment. The Slants won this case, then the federal government appealed to the Supreme Court. 

And good thing they did: overnight, the Supreme Court ruled that the Lanham Act was unconstitutional, and the federal government constitutionally cannot refuse to register trademarks just because they consider them offensive.

The ACLU published the result on their website today, and spoke of the importance of the case in regards to racial justice, free speech, and the First Amendment.

"Restrictions on free speech are often applied most stringently against groups trying to challenge the status quo."

"Censorship doesn’t just violate the First Amendment — it often doesn’t produce its intended results," says Senior Staff Attorney Lee Rowland in the ACLU statement. "As many activists who lived through the civil rights era, or protested in the streets just this past year, could tell you: Restrictions on free speech are often applied most stringently against groups trying to challenge the status quo."

The Slants, who most recently released an EP titled 'The Band Who Must Not Be Named', posted a lengthy message of thanks to their Facebook page:

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