Monday, March 9, 2015

In which the ACLU folks engage in a little free speech of their own

You really gotta love these guys.
The ACLU is famous for its absolutist position on free speech. It once defended the right of neo-Nazis to march through a neighborhood where Holocaust survivors lived in Skokie, Illinois. So after activists asked the government to cancel the trademark of the Washington Redskins for disparaging Native Americans, the ACLU jumped to the Redskins' defense.

But the group wanted to be very clear it wasn't endorsing the football team's name. "You’re not wrong, you're just an a**hole," the group said in a Friday blog post explaining why it submitted an amicus brief siding with the Redskins.

And it's a good illustration of Nothstine's Law of Free Speech: If defending free speech doesn't hurt, at least a little, you're probably not doing it right.

Keep in mind, though, that if the US Patent and Trademark Office does cancel the Redskins trademark, on the grounds that it is impermissibly disparaging (as opposed to permissibly disparaging) toward native Americans, it doesn't mean the team has to change its name. It only means that the team (and the league) will have no legal remedy against bootleg fan gear with the Redskins name on it.

Which, if I understand correctly both the law and the principle of supply and demand, means that one outcome of a decision against trademarking the team name is that the market could be flooded with jerseys, hats, keychain fobs, and bumper stickers all bearing the team name that started the trouble in the first place.

As the Vox story concludes:
The ACLU argues that letting the government decide which trademarks are "disparaging" violates the First Amendment. And the First Amendment protects everyone — even assholes.

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