Supreme Court unanimously rules for NRA in First Amendment case

 May 31, 2024

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the NRA's First Amendment rights were violated by a former New York state regulator who pressured companies to blacklist the gun rights organization.

The case turned on the efforts of finance regulator Maria Vullo to pressure companies to cut ties with the NRA in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Liberal justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the unanimous opinion.

"Ultimately, the critical takeaway is that the First Amendment prohibits government officials from wielding their power selectively to punish or suppress speech, directly or (as alleged here) through private intermediaries," she wrote.

Supreme Court rules 9-0

Vullo, who was Department of Financial Services (DFS) chief, opened a probe into the NRA in 2017 after getting a tip from a gun control group about an NRA-endorsed insurance program being out of compliance.

Later, Vullo's investigation developed into a pressure campaign targeting the NRA's insurance partners.

In 2018, Vullo met with Lloyd's, a New York insurance company, and dangled relief from regulatory pressure if the company would sever ties with gun groups, including the NRA.

"One can reasonably infer from the complaint that Vullo coerced DFS-regulated entities to cut their ties with the NRA in order to stifle the NRA’s gun-promotion advocacy and advance her views on gun control,” the court's opinion says.

Vullo also issued "guidance letters" to banks and insurance companies on the "risk" of working with the NRA.

At the time, Vullo's then-boss governor Andrew Cuomo (D) urged businesses to put NRA in "financial jeopardy."

Viewpoint discrimination

The Second Circuit Appeals Court rejected the NRA's case, finding Vullo was engaged in legitimate law enforcement. But the Supreme Court reversed, finding the NRA plausibly alleged that Vullo engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

A government official "can share her views freely and criticize particular beliefs," Sotomayor wrote. "What she cannot do, however, is use the power of the State to punish or suppress disfavored expression."

"Government officials cannot attempt to coerce private parties in order to punish or suppress views that the government disfavors. Petitioner National Rifle Association (NRA) plausibly alleges that respondent Maria Vullo did just that," Sotomayor wrote.

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote concurring opinions in the case. The NRA celebrated the ruling as a win for the rule of law.

“This Supreme Court decision is vitally important for the rule of law,” said board member Ken Blackwell. "It is a win for the Constitution and for President Trump.”

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