Supreme Court Unanimously Backs NRA in Key First Amendment Ruling

The United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in a key First Amendment case.

On Thursday, justices on the SCOTUS unanimously decided that the NRA “plausibly alleged” that the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) violated the group’s First Amendment rights.

The high court determined that by blacklisting the group, the DFS had violated the constitutional rights of the NRA.

The unanimous decision was written by Obama-appointed liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Sotomayor wrote that the high court “holds that the NRA plausibly alleged that [then-New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria T.] Vullo violated the First Amendment by coercing DFS-regulated entities to terminate their business relationships with the NRA in order to punish or suppress the NRA’s advocacy.”

“The judgment of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” Sotomayor noted.

The ruling from the SCOTUS will allow the NRA to continue to argue its case, overruling the second circuit’s dismissal of the suit.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by the NRA in 2018.

The suit questioned whether a government regulator threatens regulated entities with adverse regulatory actions if they do business with a controversial speaker, allegedly because of the government’s own hostility to the speaker’s viewpoint, violates the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court’s opinion states:

“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.

“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.”

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The NRA sued Vullo, who — at the order of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — allegedly blacklisted the NRA.

The move effectively forced banks and insurers to cut ties with the gun rights group.

In 2018, Vullo sent “guidance letters” to banks and insurance companies encouraging them to sever ties with the NRA and other pro-Second Amendment organizations.

Vullo warned the financial institutions of reputational risks.

The guidance letters were issued shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and staff.

The lawsuit alleged that Vullo made “backroom threats” against regulated firms.

These threats were accompanied by offers of leniency on unrelated infractions if regulated entities would agree to blacklist the NRA.

The court’s Thursday opinion states:

“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 Supreme Court in November agreed to hear National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo, after a federal appeals court in 2022 dismissed the group’s lawsuit, arguing Vullo’s actions were reasonable.

On Thursday, the high court said the Second Circuit is vacated.

The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion, meaning the gun rights group can continue to argue its case in lower courts.

The NRA garnered support from unlikely allies in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU ideologically opposes the NRA but said it is “proud” to defend the gun group’s “right to speak.”

“Today’s decision confirms that government officials have no business using their regulatory authority to blacklist disfavored political groups,”  said David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director, who argued the case for the NRA.

“The New York state officials involved here, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his chief financial regulator, Maria Vullo, were clear that they sought to punish the NRA because they disagreed with its gun rights advocacy.

“The Supreme Court has now made crystal clear that this action is unconstitutional.”

Neal Katyal of Hogan Lovells, counsel for Vullo, said:

“We are disappointed by the Court’s decision. As the Court’s decision makes clear, because of the posture of this case, this ruling required the Court to treat the NRA’s untested allegations as true even though these allegations have no evidentiary merit.

“This case will now go back to the Second Circuit, which threw out the lawsuit on qualified immunity grounds before.

“The Supreme Court did not address the qualified immunity decision of the Second Circuit, and we are confident Ms. Vullo’s claim of qualified immunity will be reaffirmed.

“Ms. Vullo did not violate anyone’s First Amendment rights.”

READ MORE – House Democrat Leader Jeffries Calls on Congress to Get ‘MAGA Extremists on Supreme Court Under Control’

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By Frank Bergman

Frank Bergman is a political/economic journalist living on the east coast. Aside from news reporting, Bergman also conducts interviews with researchers and material experts and investigates influential individuals and organizations in the sociopolitical world.

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