Justices seem likely to side with NRA in First Amendment dispute

Gun Rights

WASHINGTON — A majority of the Supreme Court appeared Monday to embrace arguments by the National Rifle Association that a New York state official violated the First Amendment by trying to dissuade companies from doing business with it after a deadly school shooting.

The dispute began after an assailant opened fire in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

After the shooting, which killed 17 students and staff members, Maria Vullo, then a superintendent of the New York state Department of Financial Services, said banks and other insurance companies regulated by her agency should assess whether they wanted to continue providing services to the NRA.

The gun rights group sued, accusing Vullo of unlawfully leveraging her authority as a government official.

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“It was a campaign by the state’s highest political officials to use their power to coerce a boycott of a political advocacy organization because they disagreed with its advocacy,” said David Cole, the national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued on behalf of the NRA.

The lawyer for the New York officials, Neal Katyal, pushed back, arguing that state officials were performing their ordinary duties. “We think that it was an exercise of legitimate law enforcement,” he said.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, in a friend-of-the-court brief, described some of the NRA’s claims as plausible, namely that Vullo may have crossed a constitutional line “by coercing regulated entities to terminate their business relationships” with the NRA in a bid to stifle the group’s advocacy.

But Prelogar urged the court to reject some of the NRA’s broader arguments, claiming that they “would threaten to condemn legitimate government activity if applied in other, more typical circumstances.”

The case, NRA v. Vullo, No. 22-842, arrived at the Supreme Court after a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled against the NRA, prompting it to petition the justices for review.

In asking the court to hear the case, the NRA cited what it described as Vullo’s enormous regulatory power. It added that she applied “pressure tactics — including back-channel threats, ominous guidance letters and selective enforcement of regulatory infractions.”

Vullo has pushed back against the claim that she undermined the First Amendment.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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