A federal judge in Northern Virginia ordered the cancellation of Redskins federal trademark registrations. The NFL team's mascot and trademarks have been opposed for decades by many Native Americans who feel the team's moniker disparages their race. The latest legal move acknowledges that they're right. 

The decision by U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, upholds last year's federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board ruling declaring that the team's name is offensive to Native Americans. The board had been petitioned at the time by five Native American activists, referred to in legal documents as "Blackhorse Defendants." Blackhorse is the last name of the Navajo Nation member, Amanda, who initially sued the NFL team. She has reportedly led many protests over the years at stadiums during the team's games. 

The decision is 70 pages long. Here are the highlights of what you need to know:

The most recent case concerns the Blackhorse Defendants' petition to cancel the registration of six trademarks owned by plaintiff, Pro-Football, Inc. (PFI), on grounds that the marks consisted of matter that "may disparage" a substantial composite of Native Americans and bring them into contempt or disrepute under Section 2(a) of the Lanham (trademark) Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), at the time of their registrations (1967, 1974, 1978, and 1990).

PFI argued that this section of the Lanham Act violated the First Amendment by restricting protected speech, imposing burdens on trademark holders, and conditioning access to federal benefits on restrictions of trademark owners’ speech. The football association also argued that this section of the trademark act was unconstitutionally vague and in violation of the Fifth Amendment because it didn’t provide notice as to which marks “may disparage,” and that it authorized arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Additionally, PFI stated that last year’s order by TTAB violated the Due Process and Takings Clauses of the Fifth Amendment because it deprived PFI of it’s property without due process and constituted the unconstitutional taking of PFI’s property.

After much deliberation, the Court ultimately denied PFI’s Motions and sided in favor of Amanda Blackhorse and defendants, stating that the section of the Lanham Act cited, didn’t implicate the First Amendment because the federal trademark registration program was GOVERNMENT SPEECH and therefore exempt from First Amendment scrutiny.

As for PFI’s “may disparage” claim, the Court sided again in favor of Blackhorse Defendants, using dictionary evidence, literary, scholarly, and media references; and individual and group statements to show that the Redskins Marks consisted of matter that indeed “may disparage” a substantial composite of Native Americans during the relevant time periods. 

In conclusion, Judge Lee ordered the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel registrations for six Redskins NFL team marks. (Scroll through the decision to see the exact marks)

The decision reportedly won’t go into effect until after the team completes the appeals process, meaning it can still use the name and pursue state-level trademark protections even if it takes its case to the Supreme Court. 

What do you vigilant viewers think about this case? Does it seem similar to the recent Supreme Court case involving Texas and the Sons of Confederate Veterans? The high court in that case ruled in favor of Texas, stating that it didn't violate free speech when denying a request from Sons of Confederate Veterans to have specialty license plates made with Confederate flag designs, because the plates wouldn’t simply reflect the views of those who purchased them, but would also implicate the state of Texas—the issuer of the license plates—in speech it didn’t want to endorse.

Sound off below about First Amendment rights and the government. We'd love to hear from you.

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