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Quote of the Day: Taxpayer Privacy and IRS Abuse

At CFIF, the issue of improving taxpayer privacy and protection against persistent abuse by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) remains among our most important missions.  Among the abuses that we've chronicled is the case of convicted criminal Charles Littlejohn, who rejoined the IRS in 2017 with the specific purpose of illegally breaching and leaking the private tax returns of Donald Trump and other Americans to radical left-wing organizations like ProPublica.

In The Wall Street Journal this week, one of those victims speaks out on his own experience and the need for greater taxpayer protection against this recurring problem that should terrify all Americans of every political persuasion.  Ira Stoll, whose tax information was passed to ProPublica, even helpfully details how…[more]

May 29, 2024 • 11:28 AM

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New Court Defeat for Obama Means Win for Redskins, Free Speech and Intellectual Property Rights Print
By Timothy H. Lee
Wednesday, January 06 2016
[T]his amounts to another judicial humiliation for Obama and his personal sense of political correctness.

Whatever the Washington Redskins' fortunes in the NFL playoffs that kick off this week, they've already enjoyed a notable judicial victory beyond the playing field. 

The ruling also constitutes a victory for free speech and intellectual property (IP) rights, but yet another embarrassing judicial defeat for the Obama Administration on one of Barack Obama's trivial pet crusades. 

Specifically, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., commonly known as the nation's second-highest court, just ruled by a 9-to-3 margin that Obama's Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) cannot deny trademarks simply because it considers them subjectively offensive.  The decision didn't involve the Redskins as a direct party, but rather a musical group named "The Slants."  The band's members sought to trademark their name, but the PTO denied their application on the basis that Asian-Americans might consider the term offensive.  (It should be noted that the band members themselves are Asian-American.) 

The PTO based its denial on the 1946 Lanham Act, which established the current federal system for registering and protecting trademarks things like brand names, slogans or logos so that "the holder of a federal trademark has a right to exclusive nationwide use of that mark where there was no prior use by others."  Section 2(a) of that statute broadly prohibits registration of anything that "[c]onsists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter;  or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt or disrepute." 

The Court, however, vacated the PTO's denial and went so far as to rule the statutory provision on which it relied unconstitutional: 

"The government cannot refuse to register disparaging marks because it disapproves of the expressive messages conveyed by the marks.  It cannot refuse to register marks because it concludes that such marks will be disparaging to others.  The government regulation at issue amounts to viewpoint discrimination, and under the strict scrutiny review appropriate for government regulation of message or viewpoint, we conclude that the disparagement proscription of § 2(a) is unconstitutional." 

As noted above, this particular case didn't involve the Redskins as a party.  The ruling nevertheless brings welcome news to the team because a lower court in another circuit employed that same statutory provision to invalidate its own trademark, a ruling that is also now under appeal. 

As also noted above, this amounts to another judicial humiliation for Obama and his personal sense of political correctness. 

Recall that Obama, apparently unperturbed by worsening conflagrations across the globe and here at home, diverted his presidential focus toward the ongoing Redskins controversy.  "I've got to say," Obama recently pontificated, "that if I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team even if they've had a storied history  was offending a sizeable group of people, I'd think about changing it." 

Never mind that this is the same man who chose the vulgar term "tea baggers" to refer to his domestic political opponents. 

Regardless, the Court specifically emphasized the free speech foundation for its ruling: 

"It is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment that the government may not penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message it conveys.  That principle governs even when the government's message-discriminatory penalty is less than prohibition." 

Just as encouraging was the Court's effort to highlight the importance of trademarks and intellectual property more generally.  "Courts have been slow," the majority wrote, "to appreciate the expressive power of trademarks.  Words  even a single word can be powerful."  Indeed, trademarks provide a vital means by which the public can identify brands and products.  Whether through words, logos, symbols, images or names, they allow us to identify our favored products.  Registered trademarks help prevent confusion, allow us to more quickly locate preferred brands, protect against unauthorized uses by others and protect us against inferior or even dangerous substitutes. 

In that vein, there's additional positive news to report on the IP front.  The Washington, D.C.-based Property Rights Alliance just released its annual International Property Rights Index, and the U.S. once again sits atop the worldwide in protecting IP.  That helps explain why American brands and innovations remain unrivaled globally, even as we decline by other measures such as taxation, regulation and rule of law under the Obama presidency.   

As we enter 2016, these are welcome advances for free speech and IP rights.  It's unfortunate that victory for the rule of law is by definition a defeat for a sitting president, but the good news on that front is that each day brings us a step closer to his administration's expiration date as well.  

Notable Quote   
"Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger says Democrats have tipped their hand to their desire to unleash noncitizen voting by opposing his state's citizenship verification in court and he is urging elections chiefs in other states to fight such lawsuits.Georgia's citizenship verification system has prevented noncitizens from getting on state voter rolls, but the state had to defend it in court…[more]
— Natalia Mittelstadt, Just the News
Liberty Poll   

Which would be the most useful for voters: a televised presidential debate that only includes Trump and Biden or one that adds Kennedy?