Dance-rock band The Slants was formed by Tam in 2006, comprising four Asian-American men in Portland, Oregon. By 2009, the band was doing well enough to take themselves more seriously. So they hired a lawyer and filed a trademark application in early 2010 for their band name. Only a few months later, they found out it had been rejected. So they tried again in 2011, and again were denied in 2013. Tam appealed, but a panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit agreed that the trademark should be refused. Only the full appellate court found that the trademark office’s choice violated the First Amendment. And now the Supreme Court has made a final decision on the case - in their favor! But why all the fuss?
According to the Lanham Act of 1946, the Disparagement Clause in Section 2(a) states that no trademark shall be refused registration, unless it “consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” The trademark office claimed that Tam’s band name would be disparaging towards “persons of Asian descent.” When Tam found this out, he wondered, “...do they know we’re of Asian descent?”