The Center Square) — The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case alleging that a former New York official violated the National Rifle Association’s rights by encouraging companies to stop doing business with the organization in response to the 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting.
Justices have agreed to hear an appeal by the NRA claiming that its First Amendment rights were violated by Maria Vullo, then-superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, who investigated gun insurance companies used by the organization to sell policies to their members.
A 2022 opinion by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that Vullo’s actions did not constitute unlawful conduct, but the NRA appealed.
In the request for a writ of, the NRA’s attorneys argued that the Second Circuit’s opinion “gives state officials free rein to financially blacklist their political opponents — from gun-rights groups, to abortion-rights groups, to environmentalist groups, and beyond.”
“It lets state officials threaten regulated institutions with costly investigations, increased regulatory scrutiny and penalties,” they wrote. “It also permits selective investigations and penalties targeting business arrangements with disfavored speakers … and treats leniently, or exempts, identical transactions with customers who lack controversial views.”
The NRA argues that Vullo also pressured insurers and others by making “back-channel threats that they cease providing services to the NRA” following the Parkland shooting when a lone gunman killed 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In a court filing, Vullo’s lawyers defended her actions and argued that government officials are allowed to encourage businesses to consider reputational risks in their relationships with other entities, such as the NRA. They argued that her actions didn’t violate the NRA’s constitutional rights.
“Instead, respondent simply took a position on a matter of significant public concern — which she was clearly permitted to do under the First Amendment — and encouraged regulated entities to consider whether they agreed,” they wrote. “That does not even approach the line between persuasion and coercion.”
New York, a deep blue state where Democratic leaders have been hostile to gun rights issues, has been embroiled in numerous lawsuits with the NRA in recent years.
In 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued the NRA, alleging fraud and mismanagement, asking a judge to dissolve the organization, which was originally incorporated in the state. The NRA filed a lawsuit to block the move, but a judge tossed out the legal challenge.
The NRA’s latest legal fight is backed by other Second Amendment groups and conservative watchdogs, who have filed briefs in support of the organization’s appeal.
“The Institute is particularly concerned with instances, such as this one, where the government has sought to silence dissent through indirect pressure,” lawyers for the Goldwater Institute wrote in a legal filing.
The legal challenge is one of several firearm-related cases set to be taken up by the Supreme Court in its new term, which gets underway this week.
Justices are also weighing a Trump-era ban on so-called ‘bump stocks’ that allow semi-automatic rifles to fire more quickly is legal, and a case involving a federal ban on firearms for domestic abusers, which the court heard on Tuesday.