Lawyers for the pro football team in the nation’s capital on Wednesday asked a federal appeals court to move promptly to clear the team’s right to federal legal protection for its name, the “Redskins.” In a brief letter filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the team contended that the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday that trademarks are a form of free speech seals the right to six marks containing the name.
The team’s trademarks were cancelled by federal trademark officials, relying on a 1946 federal law that bars official registration of any mark that tends to “disparage” a person or group. In a unanimous decision in Matal v. Tam, the Justices nullified that law as a form of discrimination against a particular point of view, in violation of First Amendment free-speech rights.
Pro-Footbsll, Inc., the parent organization of the Washington team, argued that the Justices’ ruling left nothing for the lower courts to decide, so a summary ruling should be issued to direct a federal trial court to rule in favor of the team, without any further proceedings. The Supreme Court ruling, the letter said, is “controlling in this case” because the sole basis for cancellation of the six trademarks was the anti-disparagement provision.
In response to the team’s letter, however, the Circuit Court told lawyers on both sides of the case to file papers laying out their positions on whether that court should hold a hearing to deal with the impact of the Justices’ ruling on the case. Those responses are due by July 3.
A group of Native-Americans, who have waged a years-long legal and public relations battle against the Washington team for its name and who had won the cancellation of the marks, will have a chance to reply to the team’s legal request.
The owner of the football team has resisted a prolonged campaign, involving many sources, to try to persuade the team to change its name. The team’s lawyers have countered with a vigorous defense of the right to the trademarks, and at one point tried unsuccessfully to get the Supreme Court to hear their appeal without waiting for the case to unfold in the Fourth Circuit Court. The Justices denied that maneuver last October. The team’s appeal in the Fourth Circuit Court has been on hold since last November, awaiting the outcome of the Supreme Court review of the constitutional issue in the Tam case.