Supreme Court gives National Rifle Association a First Amendment win in suit against New York officials

Gun Rights

WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Association, best known for advocating for gun rights under the Second Amendment, won an unusual First Amendment free-speech decision from the Supreme Court on Thursday.

In a 9-0 ruling, the justices agreed the NRA had a plausible free-speech claim that it had been targeted for harassment and threatened by state financial regulators in New York because of its advocacy for gun rights.

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“Government officials cannot attempt to coerce private parties in order to punish or suppress views that the government disfavors,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said for the court.

In the past, the court has said public officials have free speech rights to advocate for their policies and to encourage others to follow their guidance.

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But in this case, the court said state officials can go too far and violate the First Amendment if they use their authority to threaten or punish organizations whose views they oppose.

The NRA said it sued then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maria Vullo, his state superintendent for financial services, after they issued formal guidance letters urging every bank and insurance company to “sever their ties” with the gun rights group.

Cuomo tweeted: “We’re forcing the NRA into financial jeopardy. We won’t stop until we shut them down.”

The NRA sued, alleging the group was being punished for its views in violation of the First Amendment. Their claim was tossed out by the the 2nd Circuit Court in New York, which said Vullo’s words were “intended to persuade rather than intimidate.”

But the Supreme Court agreed to hear the NRA’s appeal and all nine justices said words and actions of the state superintendent looked more like official threats and a misuse of government power.

“In sum, the complaint, assessed as a whole, plausibly alleges that Vullo threatened to wield her power against those refusing to aid her campaign to punish the NRA’s gun-promotion advocacy. If true, that violates the 1st Amendment,” Sotomayor said.

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