FAC Urges Ninth Circuit to Protect Free Speech in Mongols Motorcycle Logo Dispute

Amicus brief explains free-speech implications in asset forfeiture action

Filed: Read FAC’s amicus brief

Case: U.S. v. Mongol Nation, Nos. 19-50176, 19-50190

Court: Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals

About the case: Since 2008, the federal government has waged an unrelenting war on freedom of speech under guise of asset forfeiture. As a result of litigation pursued by FAC’s current legal director in his former position with the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, the court rejected the government’s unjustified attempt to bootstrap prosecution of individual members of the Mongol Nation motorcycle club into censorship of uncharged members and supporters by confiscating their jackets and vests displaying the club’s logo. 

The current appeal stems from criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture proceedings against the Mongol Nation itself. A jury convicted the Mongol Nation of racketeering crimes and issued a special verdict requiring forfeiture of various pieces of property and all of Mongol Nation’s rights and interests in the collective membership trademarks representing its logo. The trial judge, however, twice blocked the government from seizing the Mongol Nation’s intellectual property on First Amendment and other grounds. The government appealed, seeking what it calls forfeiture of “narrowly-defined intellectual property rights.”

Our position: The Ninth Circuit should affirm the district court’s order blocking the government from seizing the Mongol Nation’s collective membership trademarks. FAC takes no position on the underlying criminal convictions also at issue on appeal.

From the brief: “Without a strong command from this Court, other law enforcement agencies may be tempted to replicate the government’s attempted abuses by exploiting forfeiture powers in similar prosecutions where the accused individuals have no standing or incentive to defend the constitutional rights of third parties,” FAC Legal Director David Loy wrote the amicus brief. “Those third parties would risk standing undefended at the government’s mercy, especially if they are low-income people of color without ready access to counsel, unlike the ‘unions, churches, sports leagues, and fraternities’ against whom the government has not sought forfeiture of trademarks or symbols.”

FAC is joined in the amicus brief by California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. 

Date filed: April 27, 2022

Update: On January 6, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, holding that the proposed forfeiture was inconsistent with the statute under which the government sought forfeiture.

More: Read more about the long-running case and the free speech implications on ACLU’s website.