15 May 2009

Blind Justice

As Arlo Guthrie said, here's another case of typical American blind justice, and there's nothin' [anyone] can do about it. Or should.

There's a longrunning dispute over the name and logo of the Washington Redskins, including several back-and-forth trips between the US District Court for the District of Columbia and the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. This has resulted in reaffirmation of the name "Redskins" as not unlawful (not at all the same thing as "good idea"), and — of interest today — denial of claims requiring cancellation of the logo. Today's Court of Appeals opinion describes the situation thus:

At bottom, this case concerns whether various trademarks related to the Washington Redskins football team disparage Native Americans within the meaning of the Lanham Trademark Act. But that question has since been overshadowed by the defense of laches, the basis on which the district court first entered judgment for the Redskins six years ago. We reversed that decision, finding that the district court had misapplied the law of laches to the particular facts of the case. On remand, the district court reconsidered the evidence in light of our instructions and again ruled for the team. Now appealing that decision, plaintiffs argue only that the district court improperly assessed evidence of prejudice in applying laches to the facts at issue. Limited to that question, we see no error and affirm.

Pro Football, Inc. v. Harjo, No. 03–7162 (D.C. Cir., 15 May 2009) (PDF), slip op. at 2 (Tatel, J.) (citations omitted).

Of course Judge Tatel could "see no error": He's legally blind. (Sarcastic remarks about "race-blindness" are encouraged.) But this is not a question of fact; it is, instead, a legal question not requiring any familiarity with the trademark/logo at issue, and Judge Tatel has one of the most-nuanced records on the arcana of civil procedure of any federal appellate judge.