Supreme Court Unanimously Rules for NRA in First Amendment Case

Supreme Court

Under disgraced former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the power of state government was weaponized against the National Rifle Association. That may sound tendentious but that fact isn’t even disputed. Cuomo directed state government offices — primarily Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria T. Vullo — to use their powers to coerce businesses like banks and insurance companies to refuse to do business with the NRA.

Vullo allegedly pressured Lloyd’s of London and other firms to cut off its business relationships with the NRA or face the consequences.

Why? That should be obvious. The NRA holds views, such as supporting the right to keep and bear arms, that Cuomo finds noxious. He and Vullo then decided to use the levers of government power to punish the NRA for its Second Amendment and other political advocacy.

That kind of viewpoint discrimination exercised by government entities is a clear violation of the NRA’s First Amendment rights. It was so clear, in fact, that even the American Civil Liberties Association swallowed hard and supported the NRA in the suit. As a result the association sued Vullo for violating its rights. The case was vacated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but last year the Supreme Court decided to hear the case.

Today, in an important vindication of the NRA and the First Amendment rights of all advocacy organizations, whatever their viewpoint may be, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that NRA’s lawsuit against Vullo can go forward.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote . . .

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.

And . . .

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.

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. You can read the full opinion here.

The NRA’s outside attorney had this to say . . .

“This is a landmark victory for the NRA and all who care about our First Amendment freedom,” said William A. Brewer III, counsel to the NRA. “The opinion confirms what the NRA has known all along: New York government officials abused the power of their office to silence a political enemy. This is a victory for the NRA’s millions of members and the freedoms that define America.”

Montana Attorney General (and SNW contributor) Austin Knudsen, who filed a brief in the case, had this to say . . .

The Supreme Court made the right decision today in protecting one of the greatest privileges we have as Americans: free speech. The Justices unanimously affirmed what we already knew, elected officials cannot use their authority to financially cripple or stifle their political opponents’ First Amendment rights. As attorney general, I will continue to fight for the rights of Montanans and all Americans.

3 Responses

  1. 9-0, wow.

    Even proto-fascist Ketanji Brown Jackson signed on?

  2. While the decision is correct and a good restatement of legal principles, I caution people not to celebrate it too much.

    Look at the final footnote in the opinion. Sotomajor is dog whistling to the Second Circuit to dismiss the case on remand based on qualified immunity. That’s why Kagan, Sotomajor, and Jackson signed on . . . they know the case is going to go down on remand, and the votes are not there on SCOTUS to nuke qualified immunity.

    1. ” …they know the case is going to go down on remand, and the votes are not there on SCOTUS to nuke qualified immunity.”

      While nuking qualified immunity on the surface sounds very attractive to me, it seems to me it will creates more problems than it solves. What sane person would ever want to be in law enforcement with that potentially hanging over their head?

      I bet the “Defund Police” crowd (read, fascists) would love qualified immunity declared unconstitutional.

      *Please* change my mind…

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