On April 11, 2019, the members of the Chester Bedell American Inn of Court experienced a thought-provoking and entertaining presentation by musician Simon Tam.
Tam was the persistent force that led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744, 1769 (2017). In this landmark case, the court determined that the Disparagement Clause of the Lanham Act was a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech and therefore unconstitutional.
As a result, Tam was allowed to register his band name, The Slants, as a trademark, which was initially rejected because the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) considered the mark disparaging to Asian Americans.
“Asian Troublemaker” Simon Tam’s Presentation
Simon Tam shared his journey from starting an Asian-American band called The Slants to performing in a prison with white supremacists in the audience and sitting in the U.S. Supreme Court for oral argument. He presented his story with humor but also conveyed the impact of discrimination against Asian Americans in the U.S.
Like most individuals who get involved in protracted legal battles, Tam often thought of giving up and just renaming his band. But his legal team, which consisted of lawyers and experts who all eventually donated their time, helped him understand the importance of his case was for freedom of speech and fighting institutional bias in the USPTO.
Tam ended up working side by side with his legal team and receiving a first-hand education on the U.S. federal court system, trademark law, and the pursuit of justice. Throughout the entire seven-year legal battle, he also continued to play music all over the world with his band, spreading their message about creating positive change against racial bias.
If you are contemplating taking a legal battle against the federal government all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, I recommend picking up a copy of Tam’s recently released book, Slanted: How an Asian American Troublemaker Took on the Supreme Court. We need more people like Simon Tam who have the courage and a sense of justice to take on institutional bias in our society.