The Washington Redskins have won the latest round in a 16-year court battle against a group of American Indians, prevailing on a technicality that again skirts the issue of whether the team’s nickname is racially offensive.
In a ruling dated June 25 and first circulated Thursday, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the youngest of the seven Native American plaintiffs waited too long after turning 18 to file the lawsuit that attempts to revoke the Redskins trademarks.
[The lead plaintiff, Suzan Shown Harjo] and her fellow plaintiffs have been working since 1992 to have the Redskins trademarks declared invalid. They initially won—the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office panel canceled the trademarks in 1999—but Kollar-Kotelly overturned the ruling in 2003 in part because the suit was filed decades after the first Redskins trademark was issued in 1967.
The judge did not address whether the Redskins name is offensive or racist. She wrote that her decision was not based on the larger issue of “the appropriateness of Native American imagery for team names.”
The case now heads back to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Should it agree that Harjo’s group was too old to sue, she has a backup plan: A group of six American Indians ranging in age from 18 to 24 filed essentially the same lawsuit two years ago. That suit is on hold until Harjo’s case is resolved.
Harjo therefore anticipates that one day, a court will have to decide once and for all whether the Redskins name is offensive.