Tennessee AG joins in support of NRA free speech lawsuit

Gun Rights

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, along with 23 other attorneys general and the Arizona legislature, filed an amicus brief Tuesday in support of the National Rifle Association’s free speech case against a New York official.

The case centers on a New York state financial regulator who allegedly tried to deny the gun organization access to financial services because of its controversial political advocacy in 2018.

In the brief, the attorneys general ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse an appeals court ruling that Maria Vullo, who was the superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services in 2018, did not stifle the NRA’s free speech rights when she allegedly targeted the group by issuing “formal  guidance  letters  and  a  press  release  urging  every bank  and  insurance  company in New York State to ‘sever their ties’ with ‘the NRA or similar gun  promotion  organizations,’” according to court documents.

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The NRA initially won the case when a district court ruled that the threats and inducements Vullo used to coerce financial institutions to cut ties with the NRA were sufficient to claim as a violation of the First Amendment. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision, finding that Vullo had not violated the NRA’s free speech rights and had performed normal business practices.

In the brief, the attorneys general ask the Supreme Court to hear the case again to “protect Americans’ right to free speech from government officials.”

“The power of government must never be used to suppress dissenting ideas, whether directly or indirectly,” Skrmetti said in a statement. “I am proud to join this coalition of 23 states supporting our First Amendment rights.”

Skrmeti argues the lower court’s decision that Vullo had not violated the gun organization’s free speech rights “erodes First Amendment safeguards for private political speech and paves the way for the government to suppress speech it doesn’t agree with or doesn’t like.”

“If the Second Circuit’s decision is left standing, government officials will likely employ similar tactics to stifle disfavored speakers,” the attorneys general also wrote in the brief. “As in Vullo, officials could target financial institutions that advocacy groups depend on to engage in robust political advocacy—whether related to school choice, abortion, religious liberty, or environmental issues … If this Court doesn’t shut down that path, ‘where would such official bullying end?’”

Attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming, as well as the Arizona Legislature, also joined the brief led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen.

The USA Today Network – Tennessee’s coverage of First Amendment issues is funded through a collaboration between the Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners.

Have a story to tell? Reach Angele Latham by email at alatham@gannett.com, by phone at 931-623-9485, or follow her on Twitter at @angele_latham

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