NAPABA Statement on Today’s Supreme Court Arguments in Key Cases Involving Trademarking of Racial Slurs and Racial and Religious Profiling

For Immediate Release
Jan. 18, 2017

For More Information, Contact:
Brett Schuster, Communications Manager
202-775-9555; [email protected]

WASHINGTON — Today, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on two cases — Lee v. Tam and Ziglar v. Abbasi — that will have a significant impact on racial and religious minorities.

In Lee v. Tam, the Court will consider whether Simon Shiao Tam’s application to trademark the name of his band, “The Slants,” was properly rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  In a decision by the Federal Circuit, the appellate court found Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which prohibited “disparaging” trademarks such as “The Slants,” to be unconstitutional under a facial challenge brought by Tam.

“Racial slurs should not be recognized as commercial speech through federally-protected trademarks,” said NAPABA President Cyndie M. Chang. “Freedom of speech does not require that the government allow racially derogatory terms to be trademarked so that a trademark owner can have exclusive rights to use and monetize such terms.”

NAPABA previously filed an amicus brief in Lee v. Tam when it was before the Federal Circuit and joined a brief — along with the Hispanic National Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the National Native American Bar Association, and the National LGBT Bar Association — to urge the Supreme Court to support the constitutionality of Section 2(a). NAPABA also joined an earlier-filed amicus brief in the related case, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football Inc., before the Fourth Circuit regarding the Redskins trademark.  

Ziglar v. Abbasi concerns the rights of individuals who were detained as terrorism suspects in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, based solely on the basis of their race, religion, immigration status, or national origin and whether they have the rights to sue former high-level Bush administration officials who were involved in ordering the racial and religious profiling that led to their detention.

“The diverse group of amici in Ziglar v. Abassi highlights the importance of resolving the issue of the ability of individuals to seek specific redress from the government when their civil rights have been violated through racial or religious profiling,” Chang continued. “We expect the Court to carefully consider the amicus briefs and arguments made today in making their decision.“

NAPABA joined 27 national and local organizations, including bar associations (such as NAPABA affiliates Asian American Bar Association of Greater Chicago and Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania), religious organizations, and civil rights groups in filing an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in this case.

For more information, the media may contact Brett Schuster, NAPABA communications manager, at 202-775-9555 or [email protected].

The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) is the national association of Asian Pacific American (APA) attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students. NAPABA represents the interests of over 50,000 attorneys and over 75 national, state, and local bar associations. Its members include solo practitioners, large firm lawyers, corporate counsel, legal services and non-profit attorneys, and lawyers serving at all levels of government. NAPABA engages in legislative and policy advocacy, promotes APA political leadership and political appointments, and builds coalitions within the legal profession and the community at large. NAPABA also serves as a resource for government agencies, members of Congress, and public service organizations about APAs in the legal profession, civil rights, and diversity in the courts.

NAPABA continues to be a leader in addressing civil rights issues confronting Asian Pacific American communities. Through its national network of committees and affiliates, NAPABA provides a strong voice for increased diversity of the federal and state judiciaries, advocates for equal opportunity in the workplace, works to eliminate hate crimes and anti-immigrant sentiment, and promotes the professional development of people of color in the legal profession.

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