Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

Supreme Court rules for NRA in New York government coercion battle

By 37ci3 May30,2024

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court The National Rifle Association ruled Thursday that a New York state official can file a lawsuit alleging that his efforts to encourage companies to cut ties with the gun rights group constituted illegal coercion.

The justices ruled unanimously that the NRA could advance arguments that its First Amendment rights to free speech were violated by the actions of then-Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, Maria Vullo.

The lawsuit was one of two before the court involving government pressure on private entities. Another, which has yet to be decided, involves allegations that the Biden administration illegally pressured social media companies to take down certain content.

“Government officials may not attempt to compel private parties to punish or suppress views the government disapproves of,” liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote on behalf of the court Thursday. The NRA, he added, convincingly claims that Vullo “did it.”

William Brewer, an attorney for the gun rights group, said the ruling was “a landmark victory for the NRA and everyone who cares about our First Amendment freedom.”

If the case goes back to the lower courts, Vullo could argue that he is protected by the legal defense of qualified immunity, which allows public officials to avoid liability if they fail to warn them that their actions are unconstitutional.

The NRA challenged the 2022 ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying Vullo’s actions did not constitute illegal conduct, meaning the free speech claim should be dismissed.

In a 2018 lawsuit, the gun rights group zeroed in on an investigation by Vullo’s office into the insurance companies the NRA worked with to cover its members. The gun group is based in Virginia but incorporated in New York.

In addition, after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed, Vullo urged insurance companies and banks to reconsider their relationships with gun rights groups.

Vullo’s lawyers argued that a public official in his position could encourage institutions to consider reputational risks.

Sotomayor wrote in Thursday’s ruling that nothing in the ruling gives advocacy groups immunity from government investigations or “prevents government officials from coercively denouncing views they disagree with.”

Neal Katyal, one of Vullo’s attorneys, said in a statement that he was confident he would ultimately prevail on the basis of qualified immunity.

“Ms. Vullo has not violated anyone’s First Amendment rights. Ms. Vullo has enforced insurance law against torts committed by insurance companies,” he added. Vullo’s letters to insurance companies are “a routine and important tool that regulators use to inform and advise the entities they oversee about risks,” Katyal said.

The case saw the NRA get legal help from the American Civil Liberties Union, which typically supports left-leaning causes. ACLU he said his decision to represent a gun rights group “reflects the importance of the First Amendment principles at stake in this case.”

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By 37ci3

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