Law School News

South Texas College of Law Houston Hosts Rock Band “The Slants” for Discussion of Current Supreme Court Case and Concert

Simon Tam – founder of the rock band “The Slants” – and his three bandmates traveled to Washington, D.C. in January using crowdsourced funds to hear oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on their trademark case that strikes at the very heart of free speech and minority rights.

On Tuesday, April 11, the nationally known, all Asian-American, dance-rock band will travel to Houston for a discussion of their groundbreaking legal case and a concert at South Texas College of Law Houston.

The High Court, which could deliver a ruling on Lee v. Tam at any time, is considering whether the band’s name violates Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act of the Trademark Act of 1946, which forbids registration of names that “consists of… matter which may disparage… persons, living or dead… or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.”

Tam lost twice at the federal agency and in federal court, but won on appeal in late 2015 when the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard the case en banc. Approximately 20 groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in support of The Slants’ cause.

Tam argues he named the band “The Slants” in an effort to re-appropriate the word into a positive expression of pride.

In an editorial published last month by NBC News, Tam said, “We’re fighting for more than a band name: we’re fighting for the right of self-determination for all minorities… I started The Slants nearly a decade ago because I wanted to change people’s assumptions… I named the band The Slants because it represented our perspective – or slant – on life as people of color. It was a deliberate act of claiming an identity as well as a nod to Asian-American activists who had been using the term for decades.”

Joining Tam and his bandmates for the legal discussion will be the South Texas advocacy team who – arguing this Supreme Court case at the William E. McGee National Civil Rights Moot Court Competition at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minneapolis last month – won third place in the national competition. The students will share their award-winning arguments and ask Tam about his perspective on this First Amendment case.

Tam reached out to South Texas College of Law Houston for this event, in part because of its noted Patent and Trademark Clinics, and because he wanted to meet the advocacy team that successfully argued his case on a national stage in February.

“I’m thrilled to hear other perspectives on our case and how people believe it will impact other areas of law in regards to speech, intellectual property law, and small business owners,” said Tam. “I’m also excited to provide deeper context about what it has been like for a petitioner to go through this process, especially because I believe that experience would be useful for those interested in practicing law or developing policy.”

Internationally recognized constitutional and U.S. Supreme Court scholar and South Texas Associate Professor Josh Blackman, also will be on hand to offer his expertise on this case, which may have long-lasting implications on other preeminent trademark cases – including the NFL Redskins’ ongoing battle to hold onto its controversial name.

“We are pleased that Simon Tam and his bandmates selected our law school to hold this important discussion on First Amendment rights,” said Donald, J. Guter, president and dean of South Texas College of Law Houston. “This event will be a unique opportunity for our students to interact with current Supreme Court litigants, and will make trademark law come alive for them in an exciting and memorable way.”

This event will be offered free of charge to Houston law students, law professors and intellectual property attorneys, STCL Houston alumni, and the general public. Please RSVP at www.stcl.edu/theslants. Reservations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis and space is limited. For more information about the event, please visit www.stcl.edu.