Illegal Pete’s Wins First Amendment Court Battle

The State of Delaware has settled the First Amendment court case against them made by Colorado-based restaurant group Illegal Pete’s, reversing their previous decision not to allow the company to incorporate in their state based on their name. In doing so, Delaware has agreed to pay for the restaurant’s legal fees and change their corporate naming guidelines to better honor the First Amendment.

“This was an interesting linear elevation of the ‘Illegal’ word issue we first encountered in 2014,” says Illegal Pete’s founder and president, Pete Turner. “We took this debate to the courts, suing the State of Delaware for First Amendment infringement, and winning; we see this as vindication of our position.”

In early 2019, the State of Delaware refused to incorporate Illegal Pete’s, claiming the name had “a negative connotation” and “might cause harm to the interests of the public or the state.” Illegal Pete’s issued a statement refuting any racial or immigration-related connotations, explaining that the company was named after Pete Turner Senior, the founder’s father who was “a bit of a good-natured hell-raiser in his day.”

The Associated Press’ coverage of the news included a list of business entities that were somewhat ironically deemed acceptable by the Delaware officials, including “Illegal Civilization Inc.,” “Illegal People Touring Inc.,” “Hot Asian Buns LLC,” “Crabby Dick’s Delaware Inc.,” “Killer Beverages LLC,” “Murder on the Menu Inc” and even “Dickshark, LLC.” The reason for the sudden stringent attitude towards Illegal Pete’s, the company theorized, was the incorrect assumption that the name was racially-charged.

“In our current political times, divided and filled with racial tension, our name has been unwittingly rolled into a larger conversation about race, the United States, who belongs here and if a human being should ever be referred to as ‘illegal,'” reads the statement. “The word ‘illegal’ in our name is a reference to the countercultural, to the rebellious, to the very picture of challenging authority that the restaurants were founded upon. It’s in this spirit that we challenge the decision made by Delaware officials.”

The court settlement announcement hit the presses in August of 2019, but Illegal Pete’s has waited to make their announcement until final receipt of the cash settlement.

After a long and hard battle to incorporate in Delaware, Turner is announcing his decision to remain a Colorado-based entity instead, incorporating in the company’s home state. Illegal Pete’s is in the process of re-registering in Colorado, which will be complete by end of year.

“This was a reminder that Illegal Pete’s always has been and always will be a Colorado company,” says Turner. “Even as we continue to grow out of state, with two locations in Arizona and even more out-of-state locations planned in the future, we’ll always call Colorado home.”