Supreme Court to consider NRA’s free speech battle against New York official

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The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Monday regarding a case involving the alleged violation of the National Rifle Association’s constitutional free speech rights. The case revolves around a New York state official who is accused of pressuring banks and insurers to refrain from conducting business with the NRA due to its advocacy for gun rights.

The NRA aims to revive its 2018 lawsuit against Maria Vullo, the former superintendent of New York’s Department of Financial Services. The lawsuit accuses Vullo of unlawfully retaliating against the NRA after a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida claimed the lives of 17 individuals.

The Supreme Court is currently reviewing a new case related to the NRA, a Republican-aligned group known for its opposition to gun control measures and its support for lawsuits that have expanded gun rights in the United States.

The Supreme Court justices are currently considering the NRA’s appeal regarding the dismissal of their lawsuit against Vullo. The key question revolves around whether Vullo abused her regulatory authority by pressuring New York financial institutions to sever their connections with the NRA, thereby violating the First Amendment’s free speech safeguards.

The NRA, a nonprofit organization established in accordance with the laws of New York state, operates primarily from its headquarters in Virginia.

In 2018, Vullo urged banks and insurers to take into account the potential impact on their reputation when engaging in business with gun rights organizations in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings.

In violation of New York insurance law, Lloyd’s of London and two other insurers were fined over $13 million by Superintendent Maria Vullo’s office. The fine was imposed due to their offering of an NRA-endorsed product called “Carry Guard”. This product, despite its endorsement, provided liability coverage for policyholders who caused injuries from gunfire, including cases involving the wrongful use of a firearm.

The insurers agreed to halt the sale of NRA-endorsed products that were deemed illegal by New York.

The NRA filed a lawsuit, seeking unspecified monetary damages, accusing Vullo of unlawfully retaliating against the group for their constitutionally protected gun rights advocacy. They claimed that Vullo targeted them with an “implicit censorship regime” and alleged that the state’s “blacklisting” campaign aimed to deprive the NRA of essential financial services and jeopardize their advocacy work.

According to court documents, Vullo stated that her comments urging financial institutions to reassess their connections with pro-gun organizations after the Parkland shooting did not exceed the boundaries of permissible persuasion and unconstitutional coercion.

In 2021, a federal judge dismissed all claims against Vullo except for two free speech claims. However, in 2022, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Manhattan stated that those claims should have also been dismissed. This prompted the NRA to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The NRA initially included Vullo’s department and then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, as defendants in the lawsuit. However, the case was later narrowed down, and Vullo was sued in both her official and personal capacities.

The NRA holds the distinction of being the largest and most influential gun rights organization in the United States. Its role in blocking gun restrictions proposed by Democrats in the U.S. Congress cannot be overstated.

The issue of addressing firearms violence, including frequent mass shootings, continues to divide Americans, despite the Supreme Court’s expansive view of gun rights under its current 6-3 conservative majority.

The court is set to make a ruling on two significant gun rights cases by the end of June. One case revolves around the legality of “bump stocks,” which are devices that enable semiautomatic weapons to mimic the firing speed of machine guns. The other case focuses on the legality of a federal law that criminalizes gun possession for individuals under domestic violence restraining orders.

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