NRA Wins Unanimously at the Supreme Court

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Rifle Association in the First Amendment case NRA v. Vullo.

by
posted on May 30, 2024
Supreme Court 2024

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Rifle Association in the First Amendment case NRA v. Vullo.

In a decision written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court held “that the NRA plausibly alleged that [Maria T.] Vullo violated the First Amendment by coercing [New York State Department of Financial Services]-regulated entities to terminate their business relationships with the NRA in order to punish or suppress the NRA’s advocacy.”

The high court thus ruled that the “judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

This overrules the Second Circuit dismissal of this case and so allows the NRA to continue to argue this critical case against the state of New York.

“What is right still matters,” says Doug Hamlin, executive vice president of the NRA. “That this decision is unanimous shows that all the justices on the Supreme Court understand that government agencies can’t be permitted to be weaponized against the American people. By fighting this First Amendment battle, the NRA has helped save more than just the Second Amendment. All Americans, whatever their politics, should be thanking the NRA today.”

The Supreme Court decision also explains that “Vullo was free to criticize the NRA and pursue the conceded violations of New York insurance law. She could not wield her power, however, to threaten enforcement actions against DFS-regulated entities in order to punish or suppress the NRA’s gun-promotion advocacy. Because the complaint plausibly alleges that Vullo did just that, the Court holds that the NRA stated a First Amendment violation.”

In this critical case, the NRA has been arguing that Vullo, at the behest of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), used the regulatory power of the Department of Financial Services to financially blacklist the NRA by coercing banks and insurers into avoiding ties with the Association in order to suppress its pro-Second Amendment speech. Just imagine what could happen to associations such as the NRA if government officials are permitted to use their power to punish them for political reasons with no accountability, or with no recourse for those targeted by those officials

The NRA went to court to argue that Vullo’s actions were meant to silence the NRA via “guidance letters,” backroom threats and other measures to cause financial institutions to “drop” business relationships with the NRA.

In response, on May 11, 2018, the NRA filed suit. After winning in the trial court, the NRA's case was dismissed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Thereafter, the NRA took its case to the highest court in the land. The NRA was joined by the ACLU, legal experts, constitutional scholars, and 25 states in opposing Vullo’s actions.

ACLU National Legal Director David Cole argued before the Court that Vullo and other New York officials abused their authority in violation of the First Amendment. Cole told the justices, “There’s no question on this record that they encouraged people to punish the NRA.” Cole also said, “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.”

The U.S. Department of Justice also sided with the NRA, as Assistant to the Solicitor General Ephraim McDowell argued that the court should find that New York officials violated the NRA’s First Amendment rights.

Twenty-two amicus briefs representing more than 190 individuals and organizations were filed in support of the NRA’s position, including a filing by several of the nation’s foremost First Amendment scholars. The amicus briefs also include a joint filing by dozens of congressional Republicans and filings by 25 state attorneys general. The support came from across the political spectrum. 

Now the Supreme Court has unanimously sided with the NRA’s claim that the state of New York did, indeed, attack this association’s First Amendment rights. This case will now continue, with the NRA seeking monetary damages from the state of New York.

 

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