The Slants are finally going to Washington.
The Portland band's nearly six-year battle to trademark its name heads to the Supreme Court of United States on Wednesday, marking the apex of a long, complicated legal struggle.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has refused to issue the self-described "Chinatown dance rock" group a trademark, on the grounds that its moniker violates a statute against trademarks considered "scandalous, disparaging or immoral." Because the band is Asian-American, the argument is that the phrase "slant" takes on a derogatory connotation, despite the fact that the members' stated intent is to reclaim the slur and challenge Asian stereotypes.
"Words aren't equipped with venomous impact on their own," frontman Simon Tam told the Associated Press. "They have to be tied to motive and rooted in context."
After losing a series of appeals, the band won its first major victory in December 2015, when a federal circuit court ruled that the provision used to block their trademark is a violation of the First Amendment. The patent office still refused to issue a trademark, and asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.
According to the Associated Press article, the Obama administration has been urging the high court to overturn the ruling, arguing that it will force the government "to register, publish and transmit to foreign countries" all manner of offensive expression, from racial epithets to demeaning images of religious figures.
"If their intent is to curtail hate speech, it's not working," Tam said. "Trademark registration is not the mechanism to address those types of things."
If upheld, the ruling could have a significant impact on another high-profile trademark case involving the Washington Redskins, which is currently stalled in federal appeals court in Virginia awaiting the decision.
In 2015, a federal judge ordered the cancellation of the team's trademark registrations, citing the same statute that was later deemed unconstitutional in the Slants ruling. Last April, the team tried to have their case heard by the Supreme Court in tandem with the Slants' case, but judges denied the request.
As the legal imbroglio has unfolded, it's often threatened to overshadow the Slants' actual music career. But now, the two are formally intersecting: The band has a new EP forthcoming called The Band Who Must Not Be Named, featuring a song called "From the Heart," which Tam described to the AP as "like an open letter to the trademark office saying we're not going to give up, we're going to continue fighting for what's ours."
The case will be heard at 10 am this Wednesday, Jan. 18. Yesterday, the band posted a video on YouTube of Tam preparing to testify before the Supreme Court: