As if finishing 4-12 in regular season play wasn’t embarrassing enough, the beleaguered Washington Redskins are now facing the might of the federal government in a fight over their controversial name.
On Friday, the Justice Department announced that it was intervening in a court case involving Native Americans who are challenging the Redskins’ name. The Justice Department will be defending the law cited by an administrative board that canceled six Redskins’ trademark registrations.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board last year had sided with Native Americans in concluding the Redskins’ name was disparaging.
“The Department of Justice is dedicated to defending the constitutionality of the important statute ensuring that trademark issues involving disparaging and derogatory language are dealt with fairly,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Civil Division.
The administrative board had cited a law called the Lanham Act in canceling the Redskins’ trademark registrations. The law permits denial or cancellation of a trademark application if the trademark is disparaging or falsely suggests a connection with persons living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols.
The Redskins, under the corporate name Pro Football, Inc., are challenging the Lanham Act provision as a violation of the First Amendment. In a statement last year, the team’s attorney called the trademark board’s decision “obviously flawed.”
If the Redskins lose the legal case, the team can keep the name, but would lose the legal rights that come with trademark registration and that can translate into commercial profits.
The Redskins management is challenging the administrative board’s decision, arguing that