The Supreme Court of the United States has refused to hear a lawsuit on behalf of Native American activists who assert the Washington Redskins' football team name is so offensive that it does not deserve trademark protection. The decision lets stand a lower court ruling that under the legal doctrine of “laches”, the plaintiffs waited too long to bring the challenge. The Court issued its ruling without substantive comment.
American trademark law prohibits registration of a name that "may disparage . . . persons, living or dead, . . . or bring them into contempt, or disrepute." The team has been known as the Redskins since 1933. The lawsuit was filed in 1992, when seven activists challenged a Redskins trademark issued in 1967. The plaintiffs won an early victory in the 1970s when the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board said the name could be interpreted as offensive to Native Americans.
The team appealed that ruling, and judges at the federal District and Circuit levels held the activists' trademark cancellation claim was barred by the doctrine of laches, which serves as a defense against stale legal claims. The activists argued that disparaging trademarks can be challenged at any time, citing a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. The decision was written by then-judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., who now sits on the Supreme Court.
In the wake of this legal setback, Tony Gonzales, Director of the American Indian Movement West in San Francisco, suggests that Presidential action is needed. Citing the many psychological studies and legal briefs that highlight cultural damage arising from derogatory human mascots, he asks “How much more has to come forward before the President takes action?” AIM West is planning a protest on 13 December 2009 at Oakland Coliseum to coincide with the Washington Redskins game against the Oakland Raiders.