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NRA Triumphs in Free Speech Battle with Former NY Regulator

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The Supreme Court has paved the way for the National Rifle Association (NRA) to pursue a lawsuit against a former New York state official, asserting that their free-speech rights were infringed upon.

The NRA’s lawsuit claims that following the tragic Parkland, Florida school shooting in 2018, which resulted in 17 deaths, Vullo coerced banks and insurance companies into severing ties with the NRA, raising First Amendment concerns.

We obtained a copy of the opinion for you here.

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the NRA contends that Vullo’s actions amounted to an unconstitutional suppression of their free speech. The NCLA also filed an amicus curiae brief in this case.

The court ruled 9-0.

On May 30, the Court’s unanimous ruling overturned a previous lower court’s dismissal of the NRA’s lawsuit against Maria Vullo, the former Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services. The ruling underscores that while advocacy groups are not exempt from regulation, governmental actions to suppress speech must adhere to First Amendment protections.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor emphasized, “Ultimately, the critical takeaway is that the First Amendment prohibits government officials from wielding their power selectively to punish or suppress speech, directly or (as alleged here) through private intermediaries.”

Maria Vullo defended her actions by stating that her investigation into NRA-endorsed insurance policies, often criticized as “murder insurance,” was justified. She acknowledged expressing concerns about the risks of doing business with gun groups but denied exerting undue pressure, alleging that many companies were independently distancing themselves from the NRA.

The NRA argued that Vullo misused a state investigation into the legality of its insurance products as leverage, allegedly offering leniency to companies that withdrew support from the organization.

These insurance policies, which provided coverage for losses related to firearms, including intentional harm, were deemed illegal under state law. This investigation, which began prior to the Parkland shooting, culminated in substantial fines for the insurance providers involved.

Additionally, Vullo issued guidance letters to financial institutions, highlighting the “reputational risks” of associating with the NRA. The NRA maintains that these letters, given Vullo’s authoritative position, significantly influenced several companies’ decisions to cut ties, leading to substantial financial losses for the organization.

“The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision today was a crucial reaffirmation of fundamental First Amendment principles: that the government cannot coerce private parties to suppress disfavored viewpoints,” said NCLA counsel Jenin Younes in a statement to Reclaim The Net.

“We hope that the Court also remembers that the First Amendment prohibits government from abridging freedom of speech— through coercion, collusion, or any other means— when it issues its decision in Murthy v. Missouri in upcoming weeks.”

The Supreme Court’s decision thus reaffirms the principle that government officials must not misuse their regulatory power to selectively silence speech, reinforcing the robust protections afforded by the First Amendment.

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