(The Center Square) — A conservative group is asking the nation’s highest court to overturn a lower court ruling in a case alleging that a former New York official violated the National Rifle Association’s rights by telling companies to stop doing business with the organization.
In a filing to the U.S. Supreme Court, the New Civil Liberties Alliance argues that the U.S. Court of Appeals erred in its decision rejecting a lawsuit filed 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.
But the NCLA’s lawyers argue that the appeals court’s legal test to decide the case was flawed, urging justices to “refocus on the text of the First Amendment, as informed by both history and tradition.”
“Courts are obliged to interpret the Constitution in accordance with its text, structure, and original understanding, informed by history and tradition,” they wrote in the 45-page amicus brief.
Margot Cleveland, a lawyer for NCLA, said the high court “must do more than reverse the Second Circuit’s erroneous dismissal of NRA’s First Ame, new Hampshirendment claims: The Supreme Court should make clear that the First Amendment’s ‘abridging’ standard governs and not the anti-textual ‘coercion’ standard lower courts are using — a standard that allows bureaucrats to game away our fundamental freedoms.”
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.
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.
The case has made strange bedfellows with the American Civil Liberties Union planning to represent the NRA in its appeal to the Supreme Court even as it “vigorously” opposes the gun rights organization’s views.
“We don’t support the NRA’s mission or its viewpoints on gun rights, and we don’t agree with their goals, strategies, or tactics,” the ACLU said in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter. “But we both know that government officials can’t punish organizations because they disapprove of their views.”
The ACLU said the ruling, if allowed to stand, would create a “dangerous playbook” for the government to punish abortion rights groups, environmental groups and other “viewpoint-based organizations.”
“The questions at the core of this case are about the First Amendment and the principled defense of civil liberties for all, including those with whom we disagree on the Second Amendment,” the ACLU wrote.
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 considering 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.