Supreme Court Rules in Favor of NRA in Vullo Case

by Tommy Grant
NRA Headquarters

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At the same time media outlets were reporting on a questionable verdict in the Donald Trump case that is highly likely to be overturned on appeal and only win the former president more support in the 2024 elections, they were also reporting on the NRA’s landmark victory in the Supreme Court Thursday. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Rifle Association allowing the gun rights advocacy group to continue its lawsuit against Maria Vullo, a former New York state official, over alleged First Amendment violations. The NRA claims that Vullo, then superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, coerced banks and insurance companies to sever ties with the NRA following the 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead.

And while allegations have already been flying over the partiality of the judge in the Trump case, it seems in this NRA case, even liberal judges and conservative judges can agree.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the court, emphasized that “government officials cannot attempt to coerce private parties in order to punish or suppress views that the government disfavors.” The court’s ruling underscores the constitutional protection against selective punishment of speech by government officials.

The dispute centers on Vullo’s alleged pressure on insurance companies to end their business relationships with the NRA, purportedly threatening enforcement actions if they did not comply. This included a 2018 meeting with Lloyd’s of London, where Vullo reportedly offered leniency in other regulatory areas in exchange for the company’s cooperation against the NRA. Vullo, serving under former Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, justified her actions by targeting an NRA insurance product deemed illegal in New York that provided coverage of legal costs associated with defensive firearm use.

The ruling is seen as a significant affirmation of First Amendment rights.

“This is a landmark victory for the NRA and all who care about our First Amendment freedom,” said William A. Brewer III, a lawyer for the NRA. Conversely, Vullo’s attorney, Neal Katyal, expressed disappointment, maintaining that Vullo’s enforcement actions were lawful and routine regulatory practices. He remains confident that Vullo will prevail based on qualified immunity, which shields government officials from liability if their actions were not clearly established as unconstitutional at the time.

Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch and liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson both concurred with the ruling, emphasizing that the specific facts of such cases heavily influence their outcomes. Jackson noted that the nuances of who is coerced, in what manner, and for what reason are critical in evaluating First Amendment claims.

This decision also holds broader implications for government regulators. It clarifies the limits of their authority in advocating against controversial groups, indicating a boundary between lawful advisories and unconstitutional coercion. This case, one of two on government coercion before the Supreme Court, will return to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for further proceedings. Another pending case addresses whether the Biden administration overstepped in urging social media platforms to remove alleged misinformation, in reality, it was more often than not simply information Democrats did not want shared with the public.

The NRA’s unusual alliance with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in this case highlights the broad significance of the First Amendment issues at stake. The ACLU’s involvement underscores a shared interest in preventing government overreach in regulating speech, despite typically opposing the NRA on gun control matters.

Ultimately, this ruling reaffirms the constitutional protection against government attempts to silence disfavored viewpoints, a principle that transcends the usual ideological divides in American jurisprudence.

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