Unfortunately, the Supreme Court denied our same-day audio request, which included a petition from 1,000 Americans from all 50 states, in Lee v. Tam, a case that looked at whether a person or entity is allowed to trademark a phrases that some people may find disparaging – or, more specifically, whether an all-Asian band called The Slants can get a trademark.
The case was one of the liveliest of the term, with a whole host of interesting thoughts and anecdotes coming from both the attorneys and the justices, a selection of which is presented below.
To listen to oral arguments in this case, go here; to read the full transcript, go here. Highlights of the argument are below, with the number in parentheses corresponding to the page number in the transcript:
Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart: “…Coke stinks…” (11)
Justice Kennedy: “So the government is the omnipresent schoolteacher? I mean, is that what you’re saying?” (15)
John Connell, The Slants’ attorney: “If our client had sought to register the mark of his band as ‘The Proud Asians,’ we would not be here today. But he did not do that. Instead he sought to register ‘The Slants.’” (27)
Chief Justice Roberts: “Let’s say you had a government program [that] only want[s] pro-Shakespeare presentations. […] And if you disparage Shakespeare, you can’t participate. Is there anything wrong with that?” (31)
Breyer: “Do you believe that the [government] can stop trademarks from saying […] ‘Joe Jones is a jerk’ [or] ‘Smith’s beer is poison’?” (34)
Justice Ginsburg: “…George Carlin’s seven dirty words…” (35)
Justice Sotomayor: “So if someone slanders or libels an individual by saying Trump, before he was a public figure, ‘Trump is a thief’ and that becomes their trademark, that even if they go to court and prove that that’s a libel or a slander, that trademark would still exist?” (37)
Justice Alito: Could the government say that a manufacturer of cigarettes could not place on a package of cigarettes ‘Great for your health. Don’t believe the surgeon general’?” (44)