NRA unanimously wins free speech case at Supreme Court



(The Center Square) – A free speech battle against a former New York regulator by the National Rifle Association can be advanced, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the opinion for the court, noting Maria Vullo, former superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, had overstepped the bounds of her office.

“The NRA plausibly alleged that respondent violated the First Amendment by coercing regulated entities to terminate their business relationships with the NRA in order to punish or suppress gun-promotion advocacy,” she wrote in the 31-page opinion. “While a government official can share her views freely and criticize particular beliefs in the hopes of persuading others, she may not use the power of her office to punish or suppress disfavored expression.”

In 2017, Vullo started investigating the NRA. That probe later led her to advocate insurers and banks she regulated to cut ties with the gun-rights group after the Feb. 14, 2018, school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff.

The NRA said Vullo’s actions were unconstitutional government coercion.

In February 2018, Vullo met with leaders at insurer Lloyd’s of London and expressed her views in favor of gun control, and told the Lloyd’s executives “that DFS was less interested in pursuing” infractions unrelated to any NRA business “so long as Lloyd’s ceased providing insurance to gun groups, especially the NRA.”

Vullo and Lloyd’s struck a deal. Lloyd’s “would instruct its syndicates to cease underwriting firearm-related policies and would scale back its NRA-related business,” and “in exchange, DFS would focus its forthcoming affinity-insurance enforcement action solely on those syndicates which served the NRA,” according to court records.

“Vullo’s communications with the DFS-regulated entities, particularly with Lloyd’s, must be considered against the backdrop of Vullo’s authority,” Sotomayor wrote. “Vullo made clear she wanted Lloyd’s to disassociate from all gun groups, although there was no indication that such groups had unlawful insurance policies similar to the NRA’s.”

The American Civil Liberties Union represented the NRA. David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director, said the Supreme Court decision was clear.

“Today’s decision confirms that government officials have no business using their regulatory authority to blacklist disfavored political groups,” he said in a statement. “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.”

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