By Justin Handa, owner of Hookers and Blow, LLC
As a business owner, I must look for unique ways to get my name out and connect with new customers. I recently decided to form a business consulting for clients in the digital marketing space and wanted to name my latest venture Hookers and Blow, LLC. However, when I attempted to get the name certified with the Nebraska secretary of state, my filing was rejected. When I appealed this denial, I received another rejection citing a state law that a “limited liability company may have any lawful purpose.” The rejection letter further stated that the name I chose would “confuse” the public and would appear as if my LLC were a business that carries out illegal activities.
My filing met all the requirements: 1) the business name was in my request, 2) my business name contained “LLC,” and 3) the name of the business wasn’t already being used. The rejection letter merely said that my business had to be for a lawful purpose. There’s no additional requirement that the name of my business reflect a lawful purpose. There was never a suggestion that the legality of the purpose of my business was ever questioned. I felt my First Amendment rights had been violated by this government action, so I contacted the ACLU of Nebraska. With their help, the secretary of state allowed me to certify the business name I chose. Once the ACLU helped me bring these issues to the attention of state regulators, the secretary of state’s office acted promptly and professionally to resolve the matter. It’s gratifying to know our public servants understand that when government regulates peaceful free expression unnecessarily, it prevents Nebraskans' ability to engage in a robust marketplace of ideas.
Although the name may not appeal to some, preventing me from using it would have violated my free speech rights. And if the Constitution does not protect the freedom to use unpopular speech, then all our speech is at risk. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo wrote in Palko v. Connecticut, “[f]reedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.”
Thank you, ACLU of Nebraska, for defending my freedom to register my business under the name of my choosing.