The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Monday that a government ban on the registration of what federal officials believe are 'immoral or scandalous' trademarks violates the First Amendment, saying it was not right that free speech would protect 'good morals,' but not trademarks which 'denigrate those concepts.'
"The registration of such marks serves only to further coarsen our popular culture," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the Court. "But we are not legislators and cannot substitute a new statute for the one now in force."
The case involved artist and entrepreneur Erik Brunetti, who wanted a trademark for his clothing like "FUCT" - which he says is pronounced not as a word, but with the individual letters, F-U-C-T.
"But you might read it differently and, if so, you would hardly be alone," Kagan wrote for the Court, as patent and trademark officials refused to approve Brunetti's request, labeling it a 'total vulgar.'
This ruling overturned those decisions.
NEW: in the case involving FUCT, a clothing brand, SCOTUS rules that a federal ban on immoral & scandalous trademarks is unconstitutional. It's a Kagan 9-0 with partial dissents from Roberts, Sotomayor and Breyer. https://t.co/t32jVFUdyb— Steven Mazie (@stevenmazie) June 24, 2019
While agreeing with the basics of the decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a concurring opinion that while the decision protects free speech, the results might offend many people.
"The Court’s decision today will beget unfortunate results," Sotomayor wrote in a concurrence with Justice Stephen Breyer.
“Everyone can think of a small number of words (including the apparent homonym of Brunetti’s mark) that would, however, plainly qualify,” Sotomayor added.
The decision could have implications past trademarks, as states routinely reject vanity license plate applications because of certain words which would be used.
Justice Sotomayor says, starting now, "the Government will have no statutory basis to refuse (and thus no choice but to begin) registering marks containing the most vulgar, profane, or obscene words and images imaginable." pic.twitter.com/oHKzLSHJic— Brad Heath (@bradheath) June 24, 2019
You can read the full ruling here.