U.S. Supreme Court rejects Redskins mascot challenge

Chris Rizo Nov. 16, 2009, 12:20pm

U.S. Supreme Court building

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)--The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to determine if the name of the Washington Redskins football team is unable to be trademarked, potentially preventing legal challenges for other controversial monikers.

Four of the high court's justices had to vote for the case to be heard. The justices declined the case without comment.

The original lawsuit began in 1992, when a group of Native Americans sued the football team, claiming that the Redskins name was too offensive to be protected by federal trademark law.

Suzan Shown Harjo, a Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee Indian and Native American rights activist, is the lead plaintiff in the case.

She and other plaintiffs cited the Lanham Act, which bars trademarks that "disparage" persons living or dead or bring them into disrepute.

"For almost 40 years the Native American community has sought to retire Pro-Football's 'Redskins' trademark," the National Congress of American Indians told the justices in court papers. "The mark is patently offensive, disparaging, and demeaning and perpetrates a centuries-old stereotype."

The National Football League team has used the name Redskins since 1933. The trademark was first registered in 1967.

The Native American activists won an initial legal victory seven years after filing the lawsuit in a decision by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

The District of Columbia's NFL football franchise then appealed to the federal court, where U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in 2003 overturned the ruling in part because the lawsuit was filed decades after the first Redskins trademark was issued.

Agreeing, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in May said the plaintiffs had taken too much time to challenge the name, noting that the statute of limitations had expired.

The case is Harjo v. Pro-Football, Inc., 09-326.

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