Wisconsin Governor Signs Bill on Indian Team Names and Mascots

December 20, 2013

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Thursday making it more difficult for the state to force schools to drop their Indian team names and voiding state orders to change the nicknames for Mukwonago High School and two other schools.

Walker's action rewrites a 2010 law — the first of its kind in the nation — that made it extremely hard for schools to keep their American Indian team names, mascots or logos if they had complaints filed against them.

Tribes fought the effort to scale back that law and had urged Walker to veto it. Even before Walker signed it, opponents said they would explore a lawsuit to overturn the new law on the theory that it violates the constitution's guarantee of equal protection to have a statute that deals specifically with one racial group.

Thursday marked the last day Walker had to sign or veto the bill. If he did not act, it would have automatically gone into law without his signature.

Walker indicated Tuesday he was likely to sign the bill but said he empathized with American Indians on the issue and hoped school districts would voluntarily switch their team names.

On Thursday, he said in a statement he decided to sign the measure because it "creates a process by which the citizens in the communities affected have input and direct involvement in the undertaking of changing a school mascot."

In the interview and in his written statement, Walker said he was concerned the previous law restricted the free-speech rights of school districts to choose whatever team names they wanted.

"If the state bans speech that is offensive to some, where does it stop?" Walker's statement said. "A person's or persons' right to speak does not end just because what they say or how they say it is offensive. Instead of trying to legislate free speech, a better alternative is to educate people about how certain phrases and symbols that are used as nicknames and mascots are offensive to many of our fellow citizens."