SCOTUS Rules Unanimously In Favor Of Free Speech For NRA Against Government Regulators: Applies To All Advocacy Organizations

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Supreme Court Unanimously Rules in Favor of NRA in Free Speech Case, Upholds First Amendment Rights of All Advocacy GroupsSupreme Court Unanimously Rules in Favor of NRA in Free Speech Case, Upholds First Amendment Rights of All Advocacy Groups

The ACLU represented the NRA, arguing that a government regulator’s attempts to abuse her power to coerce private entities to blacklist the NRA violated the First Amendment

CaseNational Rifle Association v. Vullo

Editor’s note: Staten Islander News previously reported on this issue when the ACLU joined the NRA as co-counsel. This unanimous verdict cements the right of advocacy groups to work on behalf of their members without fear of government retaliation. 

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the National Rifle Association’s allegations that New York state officials coerced private companies to blacklist the group because of its political views stated a claim under the First Amendment, reversing a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The American Civil Liberties Union represented the NRA before the court in NRA v. Vullo, arguing that any government attempt to blacklist an advocacy group because of its viewpoint violates the First Amendment.


David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director, who argued the case for the NRA, said: “Today’s decision confirms that government officials have no business using their regulatory authority to blacklist disfavored political groups. 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.”

As Justice Sotomayer’s opinion noted, “At the heart of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause is the recognition that viewpoint discrimination is uniquely harmful to a free and democratic society. … The takeaway is that the First Amendment prohibits government officials from wielding their power selectively to punish or suppress speech.”

While the ACLU stands in stark opposition to the NRA on many issues, it represented the group to safeguard the First Amendment rights of all advocacy organizations. Across the country, organizations in the fight for racial justice, criminal legal reform, reproductive and LGBTQ rights too often face attacks by state and local government officials who disagree with their point of view. If the court had allowed New York to blacklist a powerful organization like the NRA, government officials would have had even greater power to target less powerful organizations — especially those who speak for our most vulnerable communities.

“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.”

Before the case reached the Supreme Court, the NRA sued Maria Vullo, who was the superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) in 2018, after she leveraged her regulatory power over banks and insurance companies to coerce them into denying basic financial services to the NRA and, in Vullo’s own words, “other gun promotion” groups. Openly claiming that she sought to penalize the NRA because she disapproved of its political advocacy, the NRA’s complaint alleged that Vullo issued formal guidance to every bank and insurance company in New York urging them to “sever ties” with the NRA, promised lenience to certain insurers if they would stop doing business with the NRA, and required the group’s three principal “affinity insurance” providers never to provide such insurance to the NRA again.

A district court ruled that the NRA’s allegations against Vullo were sufficient to claim that she violated the NRA’s First Amendment rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed this ruling, stating that Vullo’s actions constitute “government speech.” The Supreme Court has today clarified that Vullo, and any politician who may seek to duplicate her tactics, will be found in violation of the First Amendment. The ACLU represented the NRA in the Supreme Court proceeding only.

The issue of when government officials cross the line in urging retaliation against political groups they dislike is especially important because, prior to this case, there was only one Supreme Court precedent addressing such “informal” efforts to suppress First Amendment activity, Bantam Books v. Sullivan. The case is more than 60 years old and, in the past, the circuit courts have divided in applying it. This case is a critically important win for Americans’ right to free speech.

The Supreme Court opinion is available here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/23pdf/22-842_6kg7.pdf

NRA v. Vullo is a part of the ACLU’s Joan and Irwin Jacobs Supreme Court Docket.

National Rifle Association v. Vullo:

On January 9th, 2024, the American Civil Liberties Union filed its opening brief on behalf of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in National Rifle Association v. Vullo, a key First Amendment case before the Supreme Court this term. The brief argues that a New York state regulator’s attempts to blacklist a nonprofit advocacy group and deny it access to financial services because of its controversial viewpoint violated the First Amendment. This is a critically important First Amendment fight: if government officials can pressure the businesses they regulate to blacklist the NRA in New York, then officials in other states can punish other advocacy organizations in the same way–including the ACLU itself.

Source: American Civil Liberties Union

Banner Image: Freedom of speech. Image Credit – Gayatri Malhotra


 


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American Civil Liberties Union

In the face of egregious civil liberties abuses, a small group of people decided to take a stand, and thus was born the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has evolved in the years since from this small group of idealists into the nation’s premier defender of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. With more than 1.7 million members, 500 staff attorneys, thousands of volunteer attorneys, and offices throughout the nation, the ACLU of today continues to fight government abuse and to vigorously defend individual freedoms including speech and religion, a woman’s right to choose, the right to due process, citizens’ rights to privacy and much more. The ACLU stands up for these rights even when the cause is unpopular, and sometimes when nobody else will. While not always in agreement with us on every issue, Americans have come to count on the ACLU for its unyielding dedication to principle. The ACLU has become so ingrained in American society that it is hard to imagine an America without it

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