The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear National Rifle Association of America v. Maria T. Vullo. This is a case the state of New York didn’t want the Court to accept, as state officials don’t want to be held accountable for using their regulatory authority in a blatant attack on the NRA’s First Amendment rights.
In 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed this vital First Amendment case, by ruling that, in an era of “enhanced corporate social responsibility,” it is permissible for state officials to use their regulatory power to single out and harm those with whom they disagree. If that ruling was or is allowed to stand, it could be used as a precedent to give legal cover to any other state official who might want to use their office to target and diminish their political adversaries.
Is that an America anyone wants to live in?
An America where government officials can financially punish, perhaps even effectively cancel any person, corporation or even major civil-rights association they don’t happen to like isn’t the free nation we know and cherish.
The NRA said “no” to this government abuse and sued in 2018. The NRA alleged that Maria T. Vullo, now former superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), at the behest of then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), conspired to use the regulatory power of the DFS to “financially blacklist” the NRA. To suppress the NRA’s pro-Second Amendment speech, New York officials threatened banks and insurers doing business with the NRA to part ways with the NRA. To do so, Vullo used “guidance letters,” backroom threats and other measures to cause financial institutions to “drop” the NRA.
The NRA’s First Amendment claims withstood multiple motions to dismiss in lower courts. But, as we noted, in 2022, after Vullo appealed, the Second Circuit struck down the NRA’s claims.
On February 7, 2023, the NRA petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking review of the Second Circuit decision.
On November 3, 2023, the Supreme Court granted review of this critical case on the following question: “Does the First Amendment allow a government regulator to threaten regulated entities with adverse regulatory actions if they do business with a controversial speaker, as a consequence of (a) the government’s own hostility to the speaker’s viewpoint or (b) a perceived ‘general backlash’ against the speaker’s advocacy?”
This is an important question, as the First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights clearly protects citizens’ right to freely associate; state officials in New York nevertheless weaponized their positions against the NRA. This happened at the direction of a governor who said in 2018: “If I could have put the NRA out of business, I would have done it 20 years ago.”
In fact, Gov. Cuomo, at the time, took credit for directing Vullo to use her position to attack the NRA by saying that those doing business with the NRA were at “risk” of more than just their “reputation.”
Now, as Supreme Court justices agreed to review this case, Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, said, “This is a historic step forward for free speech, the NRA’s millions of members, and for all who believe in American freedom. The NRA’s fight for justice continues, this time in the highest court in the land. At a time when free speech is under attack as never before, it is important that government officials be sent a message that they cannot use intimidation tactics to silence those with whom they disagree.”
Speaking to the importance of this case, state attorney generals from Montana and 17 other states, in addition to a brief filed jointly by Texas and Indiana, submitted a “friend-of-the-court” (amicus) brief to the Supreme Court arguing that the Court should take the case and rule for the plaintiffs to stop government officials from using their authority to attack political adversaries.
The coalition of 18 Attorneys General wrote, “The Second Circuit’s decision gives government officials license to financially cripple their political opponents, or otherwise stifle their protected speech—whether those rivals advocate for school choice, abortion rights, religious liberty, environmental protections, or any other politically salient issue.”
Also, various business and legal scholars, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), and many others submitted briefs.
All told, seven amicus briefs representing 40 individuals and organizations were filed in support of the NRA.
In addition, in August 2018, ACLU Legal Director David Cole wrote that, “…they [New York public officials] cannot use their regulatory authority to penalize advocacy groups by threatening companies that do business with those groups. And here the state has admitted, in its own words, that it focused on the NRA and other groups not because of any illegal conduct, but because they engage in ‘gun promotion’—in other words, because they advocate a lawful activity.” The ACLU also wrote that if New York gets its way in this case “[p]ublic officials would have a readymade playbook for abusing their regulatory power to harm disfavored advocacy groups without triggering judicial scrutiny.”
In a brief to the Court, the NRA argued that “Vullo had sweeping regulatory power over the target entities, directly threatened the NRA’s insurance providers with adverse regulatory action, and followed up by imposing multi-million-dollar fines on the NRA’s insurance partners and requiring that they cease underwriting, managing, or selling affinity insurance programs for the NRA in perpetuity.”
As a result of these actions from officials in the state of New York, the NRA was dropped by its longtime corporate insurance carrier. In seeking to obtain replacement coverage, the “NRA has spoken to numerous carriers” and “nearly every carrier has indicated that it fears transacting with the NRA” specifically because of the state’s actions.
In a shocking example, in February 2018, the chairman of a longtime business partner to the NRA placed a distraught phone call to the NRA. Although this partner wished to continue doing business with the NRA, they said it would need to “drop” the NRA for fear of “losing [its] license” to do business in New York. Similarly, board minutes obtained from another company show its understanding that Vullo’s actions “had transformed the ‘gun issue’ into a compliance matter” and that it had no choice but to cut ties with the NRA.
These are clear First Amendment violations from state officials who don’t like the Second Amendment. Indeed, this case shows once again that the NRA, your civil-liberties association, works to protect a cornerstone of American freedom. When power-hungry officials, such as these in New York, see our freedom as an impediment to their power, they try to silence our voice in support of the Second Amendment.
This is what occurred thus far in this struggle for our freedom. Now the NRA needs your help. Please tell everyone this important story. Grab a link to this story at A1F.com, or from one of the other official journals of the NRA, and forward it to let everyone around you know how important it is. More citizens need to join the NRA in this war over the soul of America.