The National Rifle Association of America has filed a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and DFS Superintendent Maria T. Vullo alleging violations of the Association’s First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, contends that Cuomo, Vullo and the DFS engaged in a “campaign of selective prosecution, backroom exhortations and public threats” designed to coerce banks and insurance companies to withhold services from the NRA.
The NRA argues that such tactics overstep the DFS’ regulatory mandate and, moreover, seek to suppress the speech of Second Amendment supporters and retaliate against the Association and others for their political advocacy.
“Political differences aside, our client believes the tactics employed by these public officials are aimed to deprive the NRA of its First Amendment right to speak freely about gun-related issues and in defense of the Second Amendment,” said William A. Brewer III, partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors and counsel to the NRA. “We believe these actions are outside the authority of DFS and fail to honor the principles which require public officials to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens.”
The lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages to redress harms inflicted by the DFS campaign.
Among other things, the lawsuit cites a pair of “guidance” letters issued on April 19 by the DFS to the ceos of banks and insurance companies doing business in New York. Styled as regulatory “risk management” advisories, the letters encourage institutions to “take prompt actions” to manage “reputational risk” posed by dealings with “gun promotion organizations.” The same day, Cuomo issued a press release in which Vullo directly urged “all insurance companies and banks doing business in New York” to “discontinue their arrangements with the NRA.”
The lawsuit states: “As a direct result of this coercion, multiple firms have succumbed to defendants’ demands and entered into consent orders with DFS that compel them to terminate longstanding, beneficial business relationships with the NRA both in New York and elsewhere. Tellingly, several provisions in the orders bear no relation to any ostensible regulatory infraction. Instead, the orders prohibit lawful commercial speech for no reason other than that it carries the NRA brand.”