I ran into a band earlier this week at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. The band, who I thought were street musicians at first, played acoustically for a few minutes, collecting donations for the MLK memorial. The band explained to a woman what the donations were going toward and, while explaining, I heard them mention they were from Portland. As a fellow Portlander, I decided to chat with them.
When The Slants were forming, they were seeking a name that would incorporate their Asian-American culture. Some of the band members asked American friends what some Asian stereotypes were. The friends suggested slanted eyes as a stereotype. The band members thought the name The Slants would be fun and began producing music under the name.
The Slants have been a band for 10 years and not faced any issues with their name until the government interfered with their trademark. According to the government, the band name is derogatory and offensive. What puzzled The Slants was the fact that they are Asian-Americans calling themselves The Slants. They did not find it offensive and decided to fight back.
The case was challenged at each court, eventually ending at the Supreme Court. The case is considered a First Amendment matter which intrigued me as a student who just finished a law class about the First Amendment.
I am curious to see how the Supreme Court will rule this case. While The Slants may be derogatory to some, that is no reason to prevent the band from trademarking the name. There is freedom of expression in art, including the name of bands.
I predict The Slants will win the case. Making a case to censor a band name will be difficult. There are plenty of bands, NWA, for one, that have questionable names. If the government chooses to deny the trademark of The Slants, a law will need to be made to establish what names are okay or not. I find it highly likely that a law would be narrowly tailored enough to fulfill the need of a censorship ruling.
What made this case difficult is the association of the Redskins. The Redskins jumped on this case finding their situation like The Slants’. The Redskins are in trouble at the moment for their team name, a derogatory name for Native Americans. There are differences between the Redskins and The Slants. The Slants are Asian-Americans calling themselves The Slants, not even a common term to refer to Asian peoples. The Redskins is commonly seen as a derogatory term for Native Americans and the executives of the Redskins were not likely Native American. Additionally, the Redskins belong to the NFL which may have terms and conditions by which the team needs to abide.
I am interested to follow this case through the Supreme Court. I am also fortunate to have met the band. Talking with the band members helped me understand where they are coming from in naming their band and with their trademark fight.