In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Pepper Hamilton’s Asian Pacific American Affinity Network (APAAN) hosted an event in Pepper’s Philadelphia office on May 29 with Simon Tam, musician, activist and author of “Slanted: How an Asian American Troublemaker Took on the Supreme Court.” The event was also broadcast via video conference to all of Pepper’s offices.
Tam is best known as the founder and bassist of The Slants, the world’s first and only all-Asian American dance rock band. Founded in 2006, The Slants chose their name to seize “control of a racial slur, turning it on its head and draining its venom,” Tam has said in interviews.
In 2009, the band sought trademark protection for its name, but the application was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), which found that there was “a substantial composite of persons who find the term in the applied-for mark offensive.” Tam appealed the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2017, a unanimous Supreme Court sided with Tam and ruled that the federal law the PTO relied on was unconstitutional. Justice Alito, who authored the Matal v. Tam opinion, stated that the law “offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Tam wrote “Slanted,” a memoir that discusses his life as an activist, his music career and his work on the Matal v. Tam case. He continues to be involved in First Amendment and free speech issues, and recently founded The Slants Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to artists combining activism and community engagement into their work.
At the event, clients, current and former Pepper Hamilton attorneys and staff, summer associates and other guests listened intently as Tam discussed “Slanted” and the long journey from filing for a trademark to defending free speech before the nation’s highest court. Attendees were also treated to live music from Tam and his guitarist, Joe Jiang, as well as a book signing and reception.
Tam’s presentation received critical acclaim. Pepper associate Connie Lee (co-chair of APAAN) said, “It was inspiring to hear Simon’s story and to learn more about how he has used activism within the legal system to advance diverse issues.”
Pepper partner Hyung Steele (co-chair of APAAN) said, “We were thrilled to welcome him to Pepper as part of our celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and he did not disappoint.”
Other attendees commented that this was the best CLE presentation that they have ever attended.
Pepper Hamilton’s APAAN provides support and serves as a resource for issues impacting Pepper attorneys who are of Asian Pacific American (APA) descent or are allies of those of APA descent. The group supports the recruitment, training, nurturing, retention and promotion of APA attorneys and allies at Pepper. APAAN also fosters the professional development of its members through its support and collaboration with internal and external organizations with similar goals on inclusion events, community outreach and participation in activities relevant to the APA community.