Washington team asks Supreme Court to hear trademark appeal

Opponents of racist mascots protest at a NFL game between the Washington and Dallas teams in January 2016. Photo by Amanda Blackhorse / Twitter

The Washington NFL team is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal over its racist and disparaging trademark.

A petition filed on Monday seeks to overturn a federal judge's decision that upheld the cancellation of the marks. But the request is conditional: the team only wants its appeal to be heard in the event the Supreme Court accepts a different case involving the constitutionality of the Lanham Act, the law that prohibits the registration of symbols that "disparage" people or bring them into "contempt" or "disrepute."

Otherwise, the team wants the Supreme Court to stay out of the matter for now. That's because the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has invalidated the section of the Lanham Act that is also at issue in Pro-Football v. Blackhorse.

The team is hoping the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rules in the same way. The petition urges the Supreme Court to wait until a decision is issued in its matter.

But in the event the justices don't want to wait, the team is hoping to skip the 4th Circuit altogether. The process is known as certiorari before judgment.

A band from Oregon called The Slants won a significant decision in federal court that the Washington NFL team hopes will protects its racist trademarks. Photo from Facebook

"The Court often has granted certiorari before judgment to consider complementary companion cases together, especially when the two cases raised important questions of constitutional law," the petition, a copy of which was posted by SCOTUBlog, reads. "Granting certiorari before judgment allows the Court to consider the question presented in a wider range of circumstances, resolve intertwined, equally important questions, and avoid piecemeal review. All of that is true here."

The other case, Lee v. Tam, arose after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to register the trademarks of a band called The Slants because the name disparages Asian people. The cancellation of the Washington team's marks rests on the same principle.

A group of Native youth won a significant victory when those marks were canceled as part of Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc back in June 2014. The team appealed the matter to a federal judge, who also sided with the youth and, at the same time, rejected a challenge to the Lanham Act in a decision a year later.

An en banc panel of the Federal Circuit, on the other hand, invalidated the Lanham Act provision in December. The Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to overturn the decision in a petition that was filed on April 20.

Get the Story:
“Redskins” name defense reaches Court (SCOTUSBlog 4/25)
Redskins ask Supreme Court to review trademark case (The Washington Post 4/26)

Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
In Re Simon Shiao Tam (December 22, 2015)

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