Supreme Court Ruling on Offensive Speech a Victory for First Amendment

The Committee for Justice applauds the Supreme Court's unanimous decision today in Matal v. Tam, striking down a provision of federal law that allows the federal government to deny registration to trademarks that people might find disparaging.

The following is the statement of Committee for Justice president Curt Levey:

Today's decision is a huge victory for free speech, particularly because it comes at a time when censorship of "offensive" speech is reaching epidemic proportions on college campuses and in the public discourse. It is very encouraging to see that the Court's liberal and conservative Justices alike sided with free expression over political correctness.

Today's decision means that the Washington Redskins, whose trademark was canceled by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) under the provision struck down today, will very likely win their appeal. While the name "Redskins" is surely anachronistic, so are parts of the names like the "United Negro College Fund" and the "National Association for the Advancement of Colored People." Though some people find those names offensive as well, they cannot use the PTO to force their linguistic preferences on others after today's ruling.

The Supreme Court has long held that the “public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers” (see Street v. New York (1969)). But more recently, progressives have been increasingly espousing the notion that "offensive" speech does not deserve First Amendment protection.