Friday, June 07, 2024

NRA Wins Supreme Court Decision in NRA v Vullo

On May 11, 2018, over six years ago, the National Rifle Association (NRA) filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the Government of New York violated the organization's First Amendment rights by coercing third parties, particularly insurance companies and banks, to cease to do business with the NRA. The government officials explicitly stated their dislike of the advocacy of the NRA to promote gun ownership and the Second Amendment. The opinion was issued on May 30, 2024.  The ruling was expected, as explained in a previous AmmoLand article.

The case was relatively clear. Government officials Andrew Cuomo (Governor) and Maria Vullo (Superintendent of the New York State (NYS) Department of Financial Services) had made on the record statements to regulated entities to the effect if they continued to do business with the NRA, the regulatory power of NYS would be used to punish them. The case was so egregious the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), long an opponent of the NRA and the Second Amendment, filed an amicus brief in favor of the NRA.  The New York district court found Vullo has misused her power. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sided with the New York State Government. The Supreme Court decided to hear the case. Oral arguments were heard on March 18, 2024. The Supreme Court issued its ruling on May 30, 2024. It was a unanimous opinion, 9-0 in favor of the NRA and the First Amendment.

Justice  Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion. Justice Gorsuch and Justice Jackson both wrote concurring opinions. From the Majority opinion by Justice Sotomayor:

 JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR delivered the opinion of the Court. 

Six decades ago, this Court held that a government entity’s “threat of invoking legal sanctions and other means of coercion” against a third party “to achieve the suppression”of disfavored speech violates the First Amendment. Ban-tam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan, 372 U. S. 58, 67 (1963). Today,the Court reaffirms what it said then: 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. As superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services,Vullo allegedly pressured regulated entities to help her stifle the NRA’s pro-gun advocacy by threatening enforcement actions against those entities that refused to disassociate from the NRA and other gun-promotion advocacy groups. Those allegations, if true, state a First Amendment claim.

The concurring opinions by Justice Gorsuch and Justice Jackson appear at odds to this correspondent. Justice Gorsuch' concurring opinion indicates the First Amendment should be strongly protected. The concurring opinion by Justice Jackson seems to urge courts to be much more limited in their protections of First Amendment rights.

With this unanimous ruling issued by the Supreme Court, the case is remanded back to the District Court in New York for further proceedings.  It is unclear what the results of the case will be.

Analysis: This is a strong ruling for the First Amendment and the NRA. How the District court rules on the issue will be very important. The Court could hold New York officials personally responsible for their conduct. If such a ruling was issued, it would be a strong indication future courts will not allow such egregious violations of First Amendment rights.


©2024 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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